NEW THINKING: Blog digest – October 2022

Each month, the Critical Fundraising blog presents a digest of the best fundraising-related blogs and articles from the previous month that have adopted a critical fundraising mode of thought. 

Inclusion in this digest does not indicate that Rogare agrees with any arguments presented, only that we thought they made a good case.

The ‘wildcard blog’ is a blog that does not discuss ideas that are directly related to fundraising, but whose ideas we might be able to use if we think critically and imaginatively about them.

Effective Altruism would turn fundraisers into philanthropic tax collectors

Third Sector (paywall)

According to the doctrine of Effective Altruism, it would be unethical to give to a nonprofit if you could have given to a different organisation that would have used your donation to help more people. So, asks Ian MacQuillin, what does this mean for the ethics of asking for donation for ‘less effective’ causes?

Choice quote:

“While charities currently use fundraisers to tell the best stories to donors to build an emotional connection, and then let donors choose between these stories, in an Effective Altruism paradigm of philanthropy, fundraisers would be more like philanthropic accountants, presenting actuarial statistics from an approved list of charities (which might be a very small list and almost certainly exclude the arts). In fact, they might be more like philanthropic tax collectors.”

Further new blogs/articles on Effective Altruism:

  • Effective Altruism’s most controversial idea – by Sigal Samuel on Vox (h/t Heather Hill for recommending this blog).
  • What to read to understand ‘Effective Altruism’ – in The Economist (paywall) (h/t Phil Slocombe for recommending this blog).
  • Effective Altruism is the new woke – by Kathleen Stock on UnHerd (h/t Ashley Scott for recommending this blog).

Nonprofits may need to spend about one-third of their budget on overhead to thrive – contradicting a rule of thumb for donors

The Conversation

Hala Altamimi and Qiaozhen Liu describe their recent research that challenges the myth that low overheads are always a good thing.

Choice quote:

“This research also adds to a growing body of evidence that spending too little on overhead deprives nonprofits of the competitive salaries, staff training, equipment and other resources they need for long-term success.”

  • Editors’ note: This blog also contains links to academic articles that provide the evidence to support spending on overheads.
  • h/t Heather Hill for recommending this blog.
  • Read the full research paper in – The nonprofit starvation cycle: Does overhead spending really impact program outcomes? – in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.

What happened to giving money to charity?


Ultra-wealthy Americans are donating more than ever. But, as Whizy Kim reports, fewer people are giving overall.

Choice quote:

“The disturbing implication of these two trends — bigger gifts and fewer donors — is that charitable giving had become the noblesse oblige of wealthy people, giving these elites an even greater influence on our society today.” 

Why is there stigma involved in running out a non-striker? Because it’s all about power



Though permitted by the laws of cricket, one particular way of getting a batter out is generally considered unethical if the fielding side employs it. Sidharth Monga examines the mental gymnastics the sport’s self-proclaimed moral guardians need to go through to maintain their position.

Choice quote:

“The mere fact that you question the discrepancy automatically makes you an outsider incapable of understanding the moral superiority of those who have decided the act is immoral. It is a vicious, self-sustaining loop where you either follow blindly or face derision.”

  • Editors’ note: For anyone who is interested, this explains the ethically-contested mode of dismissal.

Are you using the power of retro fundraising

The Agitator

Kiki Kitmeridou outlines some of the academic research that suggests fundraisers ought to elicit a sense of nostalgia in donors.

Choice quote:

“Based on all this evidence, it makes sense for fundraisers to test a nostalgic touch in their fundraising strategy to see if it’ll increase helping behaviour.”

For more on how nostalgia has been/can be used in fundraising, see:

  • The account of 2004’s Giving Scotland campaign – which made a deliberate and concerted effort to play upon nostalgia – on SOFII.
  • Mark Phillips’ blog on heritage brands on Queer Ideas.

The business of philanthropy: Patagonia and nonprofit corporate ownership

Why Philanthropy Matters

Yvon Chouinard’s decision to hand ownership of outdoor fashion company Patagonia to two newly-created nonprofit entities has made headlines around the world. Rhodri Davies explores the precedents for his approach and what they might tell us about the questions we should be asking.

Choice quote:

“If, like me, the Chouinards’ focus on climate issues and their seemingly liberal worldview accords with your own preferences, then it is easy to get carried away being positive about this whole thing. But how is this fundamentally different from an example from the other side of the political spectrum – like, for instance, that of billionaire Barre Seid, who recently hit the news thanks to his enormous $1.6 billion donation to a new right-wing political advocacy group – except in that I happen to agree with this one?”

Further reading:

  • On The Conversation, Indiana University’s Ash Enrici explains why the Chouinard family’s decision to irrevocably transferred their ownership of their clothing firm Patagonia is so significant.
  • Ken Pucker argues that Patagonia’s purpose-driven business model is unlikely to spread, also on The Conversation.

What the hell is ‘pulsing’?

The Agitator

Rather than continuously marketing to donors, Roger Craver advocates alternating heavy periods of communications with off periods where nothing goes out.

Choice quote:

“Donor fatigue is not some strawman raised by the ‘ask more, make more’ crowd to be shot down with their circular ‘donors don’t get fatigued by good asks, only by crappy asks’ retort…[it] is a neurological, biological phenomenon.  Repeated and extended exposure reduces the neuron firings as our brain says, ‘I know this object, no need to put mental energy against it’.” 

Confirming donor heroism with gratitude: The return of the hero

Fundraising Myth and Science

Just as it happened to Luke Skywalker in A New Hope and Neo in The Matrix, so the donor’s stopry end with their confirmation as a hero who is meaningfully victorious and personally transformed, says the Russell James.

Choice quote:

“The confirmation [of the donor as hero]…comes from gratitude and publicity. Gratitude comes from beneficiaries or their representatives. It confirms the donor’s positive identity. Effective publicity causes others to confirm this as well. In either case, outsiders confirm the donor’s positive identity.”

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