Fund raisers play an important role in helping a world that has grown entirely too unequal, unstable, and unsustainable, Bill Clinton told the Association of Fundraising Professionals today.
In a wide-ranging talk that touched on some of the world’s most pressing challenges—growing poverty in the developed world, bitter conflicts complicated by terrorism, and natural disasters made worse by global warming—Mr. Clinton also pointed out the unprecedented opportunities that nonprofits can turn into efforts to advance humankind.
Those opportunities include mapping the human genome, discovering a new planet that may support life, and making stunning technological advances, said Mr. Clinton. A young person, he said, “can spend 30 seconds finding something on the Internet that I had to go to college to learn.”
But such advances could be easily overwhelmed, he said. “If we don’t do something about it, the downside will empower forces of destruction that could rob us of the bright promise.”
Nonprofits can help solve society’s most pressing problems by asking hard questions—not just about what to do but about how to get results.
But he also acknowledged how difficult it can be to find the right answers to such questions. “It’s one thing to give money away,” he said. “To give it away in a sensible way is another.”
Mr. Clinton also said that, since leaving the presidency and trying to raise money for his own charitable endeavors such as the Clinton Global Initiative, he can identify with fund raisers. “It’s hard to spend your life asking people for money, isn’t it?” he said.
The reason nonprofit organizations and the fund raisers who help run them are important, he said, is that they can delve into complex social issues in a way that corporate and government officials cannot.
Unlike corporations, he said, charities don’t have to worry about profit. And unlike government officials, they don’ have to worry about losing elections if they fail.
What’s more, he said, nonprofits often devise more effective solutions than government does. His cited his efforts to bring down the cost of HIV/AIDS drugs for people in poor countries as one example of what he was able to achieve after he left office.
Mr. Clinton said he hopes more charities will undertake projects with government and corporations to tackle serious global problems.
Asked what fund raisers can do to make the biggest difference, Mr. Clinton thought a moment before coming up with two answers.
First, “if you work for something you feel is critical, put them on a sustainable path,” he said, noting that he has yet to endow some of the charitable projects he has worked on.
Second, he said, “look for opportunities to raise money for things that will change the world.”
One game changer, he said, would be for fund raisers to promote cellphone text-message appeals so large numbers of people who can afford to give only $5 or $10 can get more involved in philanthropy. Fund raisers, he said, should “provide a menu of options” for donors, not just when there is a natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake but to meet everyday needs.