By Amelia Aldred
Happy Halloween! The Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement-Illinois Chapter (APRA-IL) put out a call for spooky short stories with a fundraising theme to be included in their October blog. My co-worker Katie Fanning and I wrote a fun piece that is an homage to a certain classic vampire novel. Enjoy it here!
Halloween is an excellent example of syncretism, an anthropological phenomenon that is common in many societies. Syncretism is defined as any attempt to reconcile disparate—and sometimes opposite—beliefs and practices. It represents a blending of schools of thought and is often associated with establishing analogies between two or more discrete or formerly separate traditions.
Syncretism is often associated with religion, but it can be observed in philanthropy as well. For example, if one culture values anonymity in philanthropy as a sign of piety and humility, but another culture values public philanthropy as a way of leading by example, how might philanthropists blend these two sets of values? Perhaps they might give as a family, rather than as an individual, or might ask that their gift be anonymous in annual reports but allow gift officers to discuss their gift with other philanthropists, or they might give large gifts anonymously but give small gifts publicly. As a fundraising professional, I have seen all three examples among philanthropists who straddle different cultures of giving.
For an interesting discussion of syncretism and philanthropy, I recommend Sabithulla Khan‘s doctoral research on philanthropy among American Muslims. Dr. Khan researches how religious giving is changing in the United States as different philanthropic traditions merge and how philanthropy shapes cultural and religious identity. In addition to his academic publications on the subject, Dr. Khan’s book Islamic Education in the United States and the Evolution of Muslim Nonprofit Institutions (Edward Elgar Publishing) was released in fall 2017.