History, Part 4: Now

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In this century, the above-mentioned convergence of global north and Latin America has continued. This is clearly the case of the fundraising profession. The region has a few thousand true professionals who share the techniques of their colleagues in the north and can teach them a thing or two, especially in the areas of raising money from low-income households and partnering with the private sector.

Although the aura of mistrust around CSOs has abated, a bit of it remains. Most people are wary of giving a donation unless the organization is famous. CSOs, especially the family foundations, tend to be insular. They usually don’t publish financial information either because they have something to hide or they don’t want to arouse jealousy and criticism. They don’t publish the names of their board members because they are presumed to be rich and would be kidnapped. It’s still a hassle for CSOs to obtain official recognition from the government. Donations are not tax-deductible in most countries, so, unlike in the US, that’s usually not the motive for seeking legal status. It’s simply in order to be able to hire people and do business without incurring fines and lawsuits. In addition, most institutional donors, domestic and foreign, demand it. There are now hundreds of thousands of legally established CSOs in the region. The sector is often smart, often effective and always lively. Many groups are trying to change from being palliative to strategic.

Speaking of which, domestic corporations have embraced the strategic philanthropyintroduced by the transnationals: every donation has to advance the business in question. They still give many small donations to enhance their image. They’re tougher about big grants, making sure that the recipient gives them something big in return: media coverage at an event, or the halo of a cause related to their marketing, etc. This is too much work for a lot of CSOs, but others are very good at it.

Donors everywhere are more discriminating than ever before, even individuals. And the younger and more educated, the more discriminating. They want transparency and they want results. They love social media and are quite proud of the status their gadgets confer on them. A few promising crowdfunding sites have popped up. There is some talk and a little action about two ambiguous terms from the north, venture philanthropy and impact philanthropy. There is no talk of planned giving because there is no talk of death until it happens.

Dependency is still a problem: the Crown, the Church, the wealthy few families, the government, foreign foundations and governments, and now the private sector. It’s a good thing that almost all of Latin America avoided the recent great recession because a drop in corporate profits would have devastated civil society. Individuals are giving more, but not a lot. Aside from the fact that giving is good for the soul, it’s good for the CSO, if only to diversify its sources of income, a sound financial strategy for us all. Also, foreign donors see the rise in local incomes and are impressed by the CSO that taps into them.

Latin Americans frequently blame the lack of donations on the lack of tax-deductibility, but that’s a lack of analysis. A deduction only lessens the financial blow to the donor. It’s never an incentive to give. Anyway, deductions are mostly irrelevant where tax dodging is the most popular participant sport of all. Let’s hope that public services improve to the point where the taxpayer feels she’s getting her money’s worth. That’s a trend worth watching … along with the evolution of fundraising and solidarity in each country of Latin America because, pacegeneralities, each one has its own story to tell.

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