How Do Major Donors Think About Philanthropy?
In my last article we looked at six major donor philanthropic triggers. Today let’s look at a few more; then I’ll suggest some strategies to help you enter into your prospective donor’s world so you can make a win/win match – one that will help your major donors simultaneously help your cause and themselves.
I recently found a back issue of Lifestyles Magazine from 2008 (yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder) and was struck by some of what the publication had to say—a veritable peek inside the minds of major donors. There’s a clue right in the way they describe their mission (highlights are mine):
“A trusted platform for high philanthropy … working hand in hand with the next generation of philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, and venture philanthropists, who are leaders in high engagement philanthropy … those writing the checks that can speed a medical breakthrough, build a university, fill the walls of any gallery, or feed those going hungry in far flung nations … Working together, they are changing the future, today. We are inspired by the example set by all our readers who give generously (and often at great personal sacrifice) to make the world a better place.”
Major donors don’t want to give and get out.
They want to be your partner.
“Working hand in hand … to make the world a better place.”
Lifestyles notes we too often associate philanthropy with a one-dimensional flow of resources rather than the full awakening of our donors’ noblest virtues and capacities.
Money is a key component of the philanthropic equation, but today’s innovative philanthropists want to do more. Money can serve to make their precious values and boldest dreams come true.
To assure this happens, they’ll do whatever it takes. Whether it be applying business skills to fundraising … to creating a mega-donor group of key hedge fund players … to delivering an inspiring public speech. Dedicated philanthropists see each gift as a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact on the world, and they’re going to stay in the game until they see the magic happen.
Major donors care more about impact size than gift size.
In many conversations with donors over the years, I’ve found the amount of the ask is often the last thing that comes up. First, we talk about what a gift can accomplish.
Once the donor get excited by the possibilities, they will ask “what might that cost?” They’re pretty much already sold on the idea. They just want to give enough to assure the outcome happens.
Major gift philanthropy is often about ego colored by responsibility.
Another way to say this is that often thoughtful people with means reflect on the meaning of wealth, and connect it to their spiritual aspirations. They ask the question: What is wealth for?
I’ve found many spiritual teachings that everything we have in this world is not ours but is given to us so we can be prudent stewards.
Without claiming to be a religious expert, I worked for many years doing fundraising for Jewish organizations. In Judaism there is a concept of philanthropy known as tzedakah. The root of the word, tzedek, means justice. If you are able, you give to the poor because it is the just thing to do. I’ve found similar teachings in Christianity emphasizing people should not hoard resources for just their own benefit, but should use them in helping others as stewards in fulfilling God’s work. And as I understand it, in Buddhism money can also be spiritual or divine, powering whatever positive activity you want to engage in. In all these cases resources have been entrusted to our care, and we must not betray this trust.
We are mere custodians.
If you take these teachings to heart, it becomes incumbent upon you to take care of those who have not been as blessed.
I love these teachings, because they play to both our ego and our responsibility. We feel good we were chosen as recipients of bounty and considered blessed and trustworthy. We also understand this makes us responsible to take care of our brethren.
Major gift philanthropy is often aspirational.
Two books come to mind that give insight into philanthropic aspirations. “Wealth and the Will of God: Discerning the Use of Riches in Search of Ultimate Purpose” brings a philosophical and theological perspective to questions about what motivates philanthropy by facilitating comparisons to such thinkers as Aristotle, Aquinas, Ignatius, Luther, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards on issues of ultimate purposes or aspirations of human life.
“Rambam’s Ladder,” offers a meditation on generosity and why it is necessary to give. The moral of the story? Give better to live better.
Given recent changes in the tax deductibility of charitable gifts, this is an important take-away because it shows the rise of a new wave of conscious philanthropy that goes far beyond guilt-induced redistribution to the poor for a tax break.
However money is earned, philanthropy enables the giver to use this money for soul-filled purposes.
Major philanthropists want to address root causes.
It’s not about band-aids.
Today’s philanthropists want to dig deeper into root causes of social ills and rework the very foundations of society. They seek to be strategic, not only with checkbooks, but with talents, effort and time.
People like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Leslie and Anna Dan, Sanford and Joan Weill, Michael Bloomberg and many more fit this major philanthropist profile. They see making money as largely a matter of chance, viewing themselves as conduits who possess a large fortune for the purpose of being able to redistribute it to needy causes in their lifetimes.
4 Ways You Can Help Philanthropists Help Your Cause
You want change. They want to be change agents. Your job is to make a match!
- Begin by standing in your major donor’s shoes.
What do they want to accomplish? You have a mission; they have a dream. Find where they align. Then be the bridge that connects them. No one is sitting there thinking “Gee, I’d love to give $10,000 away, and I really don’t care what it goes for.” No! People think about what they think is going awry, and what they can do to right perceived wrongs. Talk to them about potential impact before you talk to them about money.
- Fully engage your philanthropist’s total self.
Consider his or her knowledge, values, worldview, beliefs, talents, awareness and skills. Not just their wealth. The more personally you can connect with the totality of your donor’s being, the more likely you’ll get an abundant gift that represents the fullness of your donor’s passions and dreams.
Show them how to partner with you to make magic happen. Take donors on a transformative journey that gets them to self-actualization.
- Emphasize individual impact.
For many wealthy philanthropists, giving is the culmination of their life’s journey. It’s a way their money ultimately carries their true intentions. As Lifestyles concludes:
“More than anything, many of them hope that their lives become increasingly defined by what they allocate rather than what they accumulate.”
Philanthropy helps philanthropists too. So don’t fear asking.
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