Are philanthropists manipulative? Do organizations manipulate donors? Does social media make us vulnerable to such manipulation?

 A recent essay from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University sheds light on this phenomenon. “In sales and in fundraising,” writes Dean Amir Pasic in “Wicked Generosity: Beware Manipulative Gifts,” “nominal gifts like labels and postcards are used in direct marketing campaigns because they work—they boost financial returns. 

“The ‘nudge’ of a gift in the form of a sticker certainly does not rise to the wickedness of Caesar’s depletion of public institutions for his own aggrandizement. But such gifts are also not offered in the true spirit of selfless giving. They are made in the anticipation that some thing or some desired behavior will follow and that a benefit will flow to the ‘giver.’”

Social media, Pasic suggests, is even more intrusive. “It connects, embellishes, and intertwines with our closest relationships,” he writes. “We do not enter these intimate spaces ready to defend ourselves against manipulation. But as social media accompanies us into these places, we’ll need to adapt.”

What do you think? Is philanthropy inherently manipulative? Or does this overstate donor intent and take an unnecessarily negative view of stewardship?