Cause vs. Cause

This past Monday, September 9, 2013, an individual named Hamilton Nolan posted an anna-netrebko_1355827carticle to, entitled “Do Not Give a Dollar to the Opera”.

I encourage you to read the article in full, but my short synopsis is this: the New York City Opera will have to cancel the rest of its season and all of next year’s season if it doesn’t raise $20 million soon.  Nolan argues that no one should give the NYC Opera $20 million because “opera … will survive” whereas there are so many causes in greater need that save lives.

I’ve heard this one before.  I work in educational fundraising, and specifically I raise funds for an independent school.  Occasionally I’ve had a friend or acquaintance ask me whether I believe the school is really in need.  Well, first of all, I don’t consider the school on a global scale where it’s competing against causes that raise money for malaria nets.  I consider the school in its own market where it’s competing to offer the best financial assistance to the most deserving students.  It is in need in order to stay competitive, increase the size of its endowment, and offer the best educational experience to students.

Moreover, I’ll occasionally raise the argument that the people solving the world’s most pressing and live-saving problems are educated people.  So my work, albeit in an indirect way, is contributing to those bigger world issues.

But that’s education, so what about the arts?  It was once suggested to Winston Churchill that he cut funding to the arts to pay for Britain’s war, to which he responded, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

Because that’s the thing about the arts (and education, too): they increase quality of life.  Maybe they aren’t life-saving (though maybe some could argue they are), but they contribute to humanity’s happiness and enjoyment of life.

Now I’m not making the argument that the arts or education are more important than causes that do save lives, I’m just saying they are not frivolous causes to support philanthropically.  And I also don’t think we can compare these causes to each other.

I think just as with investing, you should diversify your philanthropic portfolio; make an effort to support the causes you love and the causes that need your support (if they aren’t one in the same).  If you don’t love opera, don’t give a dollar to the New York City Opera, but if you do love opera, then please support it!  And never forget the other causes that might need your help, too.


What do you think???  Share your thoughts in the comment section or tweet your thoughts to me @fundraisermaeve.

3 thoughts on “Cause vs. Cause

  1. Great topic! I work in arts fundraising, and I’m constantly confronted with this dilemma (both internally and externally). I think you summed up quite nicely the argument FOR diversified philanthropic endeavours!

  2. Pingback: Happy 2-year Anniversary!!! – Maeve’s Top 10 Favourite Posts | What Gives???

  3. Great to “meet” you last night, Maeve. I’ve never heard that Winston Churchill quote. That’s a great one. I obviously share your perspective, working in academia. I feel like the cause that I work for is making a difference. However, even in my own causes that I support, I`m conscious that there are lots of things that matter to people. It doesn`t have to be saving lives or saving the opera. It can be both.

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