The Misconception About Philanthropy


Today’s mixer is BYOB!

That would be, “Bring your own bacon.”Today’s guest of honor, Jennifer Barbour, is a bacon lover, pie hater, mom to two boys and three dogs, and all around do-gooder.   If you haven’t checked out Jennifer’s blog at, it’s definitely worth the read.  Jennifer writes about motherhood, living in Maine, blogging, social media, and she also lends her voice to an abundance of worthy causes, through her Philanthropy Friday series.   I am so happy to have Jennifer here on my page today.  Please give her a warm welcome!

photo credit 

When I worked for a nonprofit, I was the person who said no to donations.

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? 

It’s not that I didn’t appreciate people’s gifts, but we often didn’t need what they were leaving us. Kind of like the negligee for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Thanks. But, no thanks. 

The problem was that staff didn’t know how to say no. Or, people would simply drop off bags filled with their old clothes and household items at one of our residential facilities and leave.

There are two problems with this. 1. We often didn’t have a need for the items and would be forced to find a place to store them. 2. Tracking these donations was a nightmare. I banged my head up against a wall trying to manage the donation process, train employees to understand it and educate potential donors on the best ways to give. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t very successful. There really wasn’t a true development department to handle donor management – my focus was on marketing communications – and staff was too busy carrying out the mission of the organization. 

In my 9 years of working for (or with, as is the case now) nonprofits, I often observed a disconnect between the giver and the receiver.

People wanted to give, and organizations certainly needed things. Why didn’t this work in harmony? Why did donations sometimes become a chore? 

Yet, some of the best conversations I had were with people to whom I said “no” because I would often re-direct their good intentions into a more meaningful donation. They would tell me about why they chose our organization to support. The conversation would frequently turn personal, and I would listen without judgment. They might have gone through our (substance abuse) treatment program. Or a daughter may have been saved from a life of drugs and jail under our roof. 

It’s a pretty amazing day when someone tells you the organization you work for saved her life. I didn’t get to have these conversations too often, but they ended with me suggesting where their donation would make the most impact, even if it wasn’t with our organization. I might send them a wish list, in case they still wanted to help us by purchasing something or donating money. Or I’d connect them with clinical staff to see if they might want to speak to our clients about their own success story. They might become a board member. 

There’s often a misconception about philanthropy that “giving” means spending a lot of time and money on a cause. 

Honestly, sometimes I just wanted people to share their support of our organization with their friends, family members, colleagues and social networks.

I’m only beginning to realize that my pull to work for a
nonprofit early on would also pave the wave for me to explore the topic of
philanthropy and, in a way, re-define it. 

While I write a lot about giving back, I’ll be honest when I say that I’m learning about this stuff as I go along.

All I can say is that when we have a pull to give, we should see where it leads us.

Whether you donate money or goods, use your voice to advocate, shop with a conscience, or perform simple acts of kindness, it counts in a big way.


Jennifer Barbour is a copywriter, blogger, aspiring author and new media consultant. She aims to inspire, to entertain and to make you think. Her passions are writing, philanthropy, her awesome family and bacon, though not necessarily in that order. You can find out more at


The Misconception About Philanthropy — 39 Comments

  1. Thank you for the perspective, Jennifer. Many people don’t really think about the aspect of giving, putting more thought into what they’re giving and if it will truly benefit the recipients.

  2. It’s so true, Alison. I think nonprofits and donors could definitely work better together. We just need to stop and think about the relationship a bit. I hope to inspire people to take that extra step!

  3. This post helped me feel better in a way that I didn’t expect. I have felt guilty for taking a break in raising money for Cystic Fibrosis. I struggle with asking people for money but this post made me realize that though I might struggle with one, maybe I can be proud of the fact that I am bringing awareness to it or putting a face to it so that other people might want to give. I never thought of philanthropy being anything other than time and fundraising one of which I don’t have a lot of and the other I am not good at. Thank you for relieving some of my guilt. 🙂

  4. What an absolutely EXCELLENT post. Everyone should read this. We did a big charitable giving project at the holidays, and it was amazing to get the behind-the-scenes look into exactly how the organization ran and what they GENUINELY needed to make a difference. So glad to read this today.-The Dose Girls

  5. Great post giving should come from the heart and should be something that is needed and wanted. I love organizations and make sure I highlight them in my magazine every month because they give so much without asking for anything in return.

  6. This comment makes me so happy, AnnMarie! I’ve been there with that guilty feeling. I think a lot of us have been there. That awareness piece is so key. Even if people don’t give money, spreading the word about a good cause makes a big impact.
    On a side note, I’ll be doing a Great Strides walk on Saturday in Portland, ME to support a friend with a daughter who has CF. My friend is also coordinating the event. I wouldn’t have been involved if they hadn’t shared their stories with me.

  7. That’s great, Kita! Giving from the heart is certainly the way to go. Paying attention to what is needed and most impactful can really make that gift more meaningful on both sides.

  8. I got mad at my mom once, because we were cleaning out my basement and she kept trying to put things that were broken or disgustingly dirty into the donate pile. Those kinds of things cause more trouble than they are worth. The point is to donate something that is still useful!

  9. Great post, Jennifer. Until Hurricane Sandy, I was a big clothing donator. I always looked at it as a “kill two birds with one stone” kind of gesture. They get something they need and I clean out my closet. It wasn’t until my sister-in-law in Staten Island told us that they were overwhelmed with old clothing that I realized that I really have to give in other ways. We try to be more conscientious now and give only what is truly needed.

  10. Thanks, Michelle. We tend to stick with Goodwill when it comes to clothes since we know they can handle them. Our problem at the treatment facilities was that the chances of the donated clothing fitting one of the clients was a crapshoot (and only benefitted one or two clients). Plus, it’s always risky to introduce used items into a 24 hour residential facility. You just never know what you are bringing in. I would have never thought about these things had I not worked for a nonprofit!

  11. YES. Having worked as a board member myself, I know what you’re talking about … sometimes people just don’t know HOW to give, and helping them with options is SO important. Thank you for writing this post!

  12. I’m so glad for this post. There are times when I don’t have much extra money to give, but I want to give in my time, spirit, or by doing some other kind act: throwing quarters in peoples’ parking meters is one of my favorites, or knitting a square that, together with other women who knit squares, will become a baby blanket. I love that kind of giving…or making violet syrup and giving it away or making a craft or art piece that I can give away. I love giving way too many things away, haha…I’m always giving to Goodwill…and yet there are times when I feel like I should be doing more. And while that is and will always be my goal, I love that sometimes that really is enough. Thank you for this. 🙂

  13. You’re welcome, Cyndi! I love the ways you give. The cool part is that you are always looking for more ways to give. I’m like that too. Sometimes, though, it’s the little stuff that makes the most impact, even if we don’t realize it.

  14. Not all help is helpful, right? It’s like when your 4-year-old wants to help wash the car. Instead of asking ourselves “what can I get rid of?” or “what won’t I miss?”, we should ask, “how can I help? How can I REALLY help?”
    Awesome post, Jen.
    You could have helped today by bringing the bacon. Just saying.

  15. Love your perspective! I sit on a board for my local citizen advocacy and we are challenged regularly to get the message across that people with disabilities need to live a life of value. We gladly accept their monetary donations to match protigee’s with advocates but the biggest picture is to affect the way people think about people with disabilities. Thanks for the guest post Ilene!

  16. Great post! It totally makes sense too. Not many people understand the difference and think that just donating items and money is what its about…there is more to philanthropy as you stated. Great way to put things into perspective and clarify misconceptions.

  17. Bacon, bacon, bacon! This is a great perspective. I don’t think I really stopped to think about it until Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon when social media began spreading messages from the Red Cross and other places about what was needed, and what wasn’t. I was floored at how many people do want to give, and it’s nice to see when it’s directed to where it’s most needed. I think that’s really helpful.

  18. I think most people, in general, want to give but aren’t sure how to. I hear many people say they think their contributions wouldn’t be enough. The more specific actions we can share, the better!
    And thanks for bringing some bacon!

  19. Well said! I think most people want to help but sometimes just don’t know what to do. I find it helpful when organizations are specific about what they need. In times of crisis, social media can be a great way to get the word out. Thanks for bringing more awareness to this really important topic!!

  20. Oh I just LOVE seeing you two girls together!!! 🙂 Great message here Jennifer! I am so glad you wrote about this topic… so many people, including me- don’t realize the behind the scenes of many organizations that receive donations. I will be more diligent and aware of the needs of places I give, in hopes to really make a difference!

  21. This is a great message, and I know that it will be so very helpful to others. Sometimes we just don’t know how to give yet still make a difference.

  22. The smaller organizations, in particular, have a tough time communicating exactly how to help out since they have staff (or volunteers) wearing so many hats. Sometimes a quick phone call or email can make a simple donation become much more meaningful.

  23. Jennifer this is so well written!!! And it’s so true! There are so many organizations that actually DO have a need for those things – clothes, bags, toiletries. We always round up coats and bags for CASA – the philanthropy that helps take children out of bad situations and provides Guardian Ad Litems to go through the court process. Also shelters for battered women and children, like Sister Care – always need those types of donations. There is so much need, and you don’t always have to have money to do it. And then all the places that need your time and efforts. The children’s homes seem to always be looking for volunteers to help with yardwork or events…
    And it really does make you feel good to give back! I am glad to have found another friend with the same passion of philanthropy as me! I wish I could support every worthy cause!

  24. Me too, Alexa! As you noted, there are so many great organizations to support. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing who needs what. I wish it were easier for people to match their donations with the right organization! I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but I haven’t figured out how to do it. 🙂

  25. This is a message I have begun to teach my big kids. Giving isn’t enough. Thoughtful giving is what we need to do.
    I have a daughter who just graduated from college with a degree in international business and wants desperately to work with a non-profit. (She’s about to start a job as a mortgage banker) Do you have any suggestions?

  26. Thoughtful giving. Exactly!
    She should know that the pay isn’t great with a nonprofit and she’ll wear a lot of hats. At the same time, nonprofits usually have great benefits and are super family friendly. Not to mention that it just feels good to work for a nonprofit. I’d suggest making some phone calls to organizations that she wants to work for. The last nonprofit I worked for never placed an ad for my job. I had a connection and was able to essentially create the job. Sometimes it helps to volunteer for an org to get a feel for whether or not you want to work for them. The Chronicle of Philanthropy is a good source to do some searching –
    Hope that helps! 🙂

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