June 11, 2017   |   Jim Langley

The Langley Innovations Philosophy

Langley Innovations Philosophy
Fundraising is a process; it is put to it’s highest and best use when it become the means of allowing a purpose-driven philanthropists to give through an institution or organization to render a significant and lasting improvement in the human condition.  The are many corridors in which organizations seek to improve the human condition including:

  • Cultural
  • Economic
  • Educational
  • Environmental
  • Medical
  • Religious
  • Scientific

And with each of these, we see many more specialized fields of endeavor.  So many different philanthropy-seeking organizations have been created because there are so many ways we can make the world a better place.  We decide which are most important according to many factors including our genetic make up, our values, and our life’s experiences.  In this highly diverse world, fundraising facilitates:

  • Creating communities of shared purpose
  • Linking donors with institutional doers
  • Forging compacts to bring about high impact outcomes in weeks, months or years ahead
  • Transferring valued lessons and deeply held values from one culture to the next, one community to the other, or one generation after the other

Yet, none of this would be possible if there were not a pre-existing condition in the hearts and minds of many of us.  It is underpinned by a belief that we are not an island unto ourselves but a part of something far greater than ourselves, some greater web of interdependence.   When we think in that context, we subordinate our own ego so that we might both be contributors to and beneficiaries of a greater purpose.  The manifestation of this outlook and philosophy is what we call philanthropy.  
The truly philanthropic live below their means and allocate less of their income to themselves so they might advance some greater purpose.  Some are billionaires but many live very modest lives.  Their numbers include janitors, maids, food service workers, teachers and librarians.
Fundraising would not be possible without philanthropy.  Therefore, the first rule of fundraising is “do no harm” to the remarkable aspect of human.  Do not take it for granted.  Do not take advantage of people’s kind nature.  Do not take their money under fall pretenses.  Do not celebrate fundraising more than giving. Do not waste on anything that does not advance our mission.  The second rule is, “Do all you can to convert philanthropic support into high impact, lasting outcomes.”
This is the essence of our philosophy.  It calls us to:

  • Constantly seek more certain ways of achieving these purposes
  • Challenge common myths and unchallenged assumptions
  • Point out where fundraising practices may be unwittingly discouraging philanthropic intent
  • Explore the anatomy of fundraising success across institutions and over time
  • Quantify what works, what doesn’t and why
  • Convert a wealth of data, experience, and insight into top flight training modules that are accessible to all philanthropy-seeking organizations

The more objective and data driven we become in studying the anatomy of philanthropic success, the more clearly we see pitfalls of what we call “assumptive fundraising.”  They include:

  • Expecting donors to give to your organization simply because it constitutes a good cause
  • Try to lecture, market, wow, browbeat or guilt bag donors into philanthropic submission rather than listening and engaging in respectful dialogue to forge compacts of shared purposes
  • Asking people for support before you have established common cause
  • Asking for large amounts of money without specifying how it is to be used and the outcomes it is projected to achieve
  • Emphasizing institutional need over institutional agency
  • Spending more on fundraising than is necessary or placing more emphasis on high gloss than on high content
  • Asking for money rather than proposing a partnership
  • Failing to demonstrate accountability or demonstrate societal return on philanthropic investment

Some may describe this as a donor-centric approach.  While we have learned much from that school of thought, and see how much it has contributed to the field, we also see how it can be misinterpreted.  Philanthropy-seeking need to do much more than listen to, accommodate or dote on donors’ personal needs.  They must define potential outcomes and deliver on their promise. Further they must be careful to avoid catering to donor whims or demands at the cost of sustainable mission advancement. Every organization or core purpose.  It is like the trunk of a tree. If private support is used to hang ornaments on that tree, particular those that drain or work counter to its core purpose, the long-term viability of its mission will be imperiled.  
True philanthropists appreciate being thanked but our research shows most feel sufficiently thanked but under-informed about the impact of their giving.  
The focus or our training, therefore, is on mission definition and mission realization. This cannot be achieved without creating authentic philanthropic partnerships – ones that honor and incorporate donors’ time, talent and values into the equation.  Nor can it be achieved without long obedience to a great cause and respecting the steady, deliberate rhythms of true philanthropy.  
We do not see our school of thought as idealistic but highly pragmatic.  We believe that the right way is the smart way and the best way in the long run.

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