Morally speaking, is philanthropy inevitable?

Study identifies seven universal morals – and we link them to giving

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Is morality the same everywhere?  And does it inevitably lead to philanthropy?

Insight on those two intriguing questions comes from a recent University of Oxford study of ethics across 60 societies.  Researchers concluded that seven morals -- remarkably uniform throughout humankind – evolved in every culture to promote social cooperation.

For us fundraisers, it’s easy to look at this universal moral code and recognize how its tenets are almost synonymous with the practice of philanthropy.  Here are the researchers’ seven moral constants, with our spin on their implications for giving:

1.    RETURN FAVORS – Charitable giving is deeply rooted the desire to express gratitude, to give back.
2.    HELP YOUR FAMILY – The importance of charity is usually passed from one generation to the next.
3.    HELP YOUR GROUP – Group loyalty drives philanthropy, whether it means giving to alma mater, community or affinity group.
4.    BE BRAVE – Bravery, or trust in a positive outcome despite personal risk, is clearly an element in every donor’s sacrifice of treasured assets.
5.    RESPECT LEADERS – From challenge gifts to the use of respected peer in making solicitations, regard for leaders helps drive philanthropy.
6.    DIVIDE RESOURCES FAIRLY – Demonstrated by every donor who gives to help create greater equity among all community members.
7.    RESPECT OTHERS’ PROPERTY – Stealing is wrong in every culture – and in philanthropy as well.  This is why fundraisers scrupulously honor donor intent.

Across the nation, millions of volunteers and professionals derive great satisfaction from fundraising.  It’s gratifying to know we’re not the outliers, but just tapping and channeling the moral forces that make us all human.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. This month’s column is contributed by Doug Diefenbach.