Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why "Who Really Cares" matters

In a post two weeks ago, I told you my preliminary thoughts about Who Really Cares, by Arthur C Brooks. I finished the book shortly afterwards, but wanted to take a couple of weeks to let it sink in before sounding off about it again. Here are my thoughts, about why it is a terribly important book for our sector, one that needs to make it to the top of your reading list, and quickly.

First, Brooks is an economist. He focuses on the data, and I don't believe he has a political agenda. (Whoever designed his cover seems to, but, as an author myself, I can assure you that's not Brooks' fault.)

I spent some considerable time with the date (that makes up perhaps the last 15-20% of the book) and felt comfortable that Brooks was telling it like it is, not the spun version. I might have chosen a different term here or there, but in the main, the tale he tells is told fairly.

Second, the tale he tells is really, really interesting, and a bit counterintuitive to our pre-conceived notions about people's generosity or lack thereof.

Not to steal the thunder from the book, Brooks data shows that people are more likely to give (time, money, blood, etc.) if they are from a strong family, go to religious services regularly at some point in their life, earn their own money, and don't think that government has all the answers. Now, combine least two of those characteristics (religious attendance and scepticism about government) and you get a rough description of a conservative. At least a trend to the right. Huh. Aren't liberals more generous? Wouldn't that be your first thought?

Brooks shows (and I did go into the data for a long, long time) that the opposite is true. He does not say that liberals are selfish or the modern incarnation of Scrooge, but that in the main, conservatives give significantly more; more time, more treasure, more of everything, to charities than liberals do.

As a social liberal, this bothers me no end. And I've been thinking about the implications to our sector. The fund raising outcomes are obvious: go where the people are who are committed to your cause, but then beyond that trend in targeting to people who fit into Brooks' major catagories. Same for volunteers.

But what about our employees? We need charitable employees. Brooks argues that parenting is a charitable act (and is in itself a predicator of later generosity). I would say the same about choosing to work in a nonprofit. You are sacrificing income (without question) to do something that needs doing, something you are hopefully passionate about.

We're in the middle of a huge turnover in employees in our sector. Perhaps Brooks is on to a way to target our HR staffs as they look for better odds in the hiring game. You gotta go where the data show you, and here the data is pretty impressive.

Anyway, read the book, and then post a comment.


Vahid said...

Very interesting blog! I just found it today and the posts are highly relevant to my interests and needs (i work for a not-for-profit university in Bolivia). The issues you seem to adress in your book are also quite relevant here... I'll have to take a second look at that.

Thank you!

Peter Brinckerhoff said...

Vahid, thanks for your note. I'm glad you find the material useful. I would suggest that you might want to also subscribe to my free monthly newsletter. You can see the current (and back issues) at my website and subscribe if you'd like.

I encourage comments and questions on the blog as well.