Any major social movement needs support from a lot of people who give their wealth to the cause. I speak with Mackinac Center Vice President for Advancement Jimmy Walker about the role of fundraising for the Overton Window podcast.
He says that people want to make a difference, and that giving matters. “It’s intuitive for them. It’s almost in their genes. They get to change the world,” Walker says.
“Some people excel in generosity by nature, and they tend to be generous even at a young age,” Walker says. “Once people start to give, they realize the joy of it. Generous people tend to be really happy people. It’s hard to be really generous and sad at the same time because the act of giving is hopeful.”
Making the world a better place is something that underlies all of charitable giving. “Sometimes it can mean just changing the world of an individual person, changing their history, changing their future,” Walker says. “It doesn’t have to be solving giant worldwide problems. Sometimes it can be getting one student the education he or she deserves.”
He says that fundraisers have to be able to tell an important moral story that resonates with people.
Walker refers to animal welfare charities. “I bet the donors who give to those causes have a real concern, either for the animal itself, or the impact that animal is going to make on the life of another human being,” Walker says.
Mackinac Center donors want someone to give voice to the values they share. “They believe in the foundational principles of our country, of personal autonomy, individual freedom, and the ability to be free and live your life with limited interference from the government,” Walker says.
“Donors tend to be attracted to us because of the principles we hold,” Walker says. “They know we’re not going to waver from those. They know that we’re not going to be influenced by them or by other donors who might attempt to sway us on any given issue that would be contrary to principle.”
Sometimes principles conflict with the interests of potential donors. Walker mentions that some donors are also the recipients of selective business subsidies. “We’ve had a donor say to us, ‘I would be disappointed in you if you betrayed your principles for extra money,’” Walker says.
“I should also note that we listen to a lot of donors who have good ideas on how to execute on ideas that we have,” Walker says. “A lot of these folks are amazing problem solvers themselves. So we take a lot of advice, we take a lot of counsel, and some good ideas are developed through conversations that we have with donors.”
The Mackinac Center finds so many people who share our principles because we are able to get our message out. “We find them because they have already found us and are giving to us,” Walker says. The Mackinac Center sends out mailers to potential donors and reports daily news with Michigan Capitol Confidential. The Center’s experts appear in the news and write op-eds. Supporters respond by telling their friends about our work.
Donors expect results from their donations, and what they expect depends on the giver. Some donors are happy to follow the work that we do and ensure that it’s voicing the things that they care about.
Others ask for something more specific. “Let’s say somebody has given what might be a relatively small gift for that particular donor. They might be willing to give ten times that, twenty times that, or more for a particular issue they care a lot about,” Walker says. “If that happens, oftentimes we agree ahead of time on how we’ll report, what kind of metrics they’d be looking for, and what kind of results they want.”
Walker mentions one donor whose largest gift helped us to intervene with the Michigan Public Service Commission, the regulator for state electric utilities. The state’s energy providers are charging more for less reliable service, and there is a regulatory process to let people weigh in on how the utilities are regulated.
“And the donor said, ‘We are going to lose but we have to start making this case. We have to put a stake in the ground,’” Walker says. That is, someone had to go out to make the case for affordable and reliable electricity, even if that is outside of the Overton Window right now.
Walker works to make a strong moral case to get people interested in ideas. He cites our work on school choice, where we argue that parents ought to be the people who decide how and where their kids are educated. Our opponents emphasize the importance of public schools instead.
“Shifting the Overton Window is all about who makes the better moral case for their ideas,” Walker says. “Not which idea is more moral, or more morally just; it’s who makes the better argument from a moral standpoint.”
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit research and educational institute that advances the principles of free markets and limited government. Through our research and education programs, we challenge government overreach and advocate for a free-market approach to public policy that frees people to realize their potential and dreams.
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