How Do Major Donors Think About Philanthropy?
To a large extent, they think about it the same way as anyone else. They just have more money.
It’s good to remember that major donors are, first and foremost, just people.
And like all human beings, they are on a continual quest for meaning. It’s the existential search to be all that one can be. To feel self-actualized.
And you can help them!
In fact, this is your job. This is part and parcel of your organization’s mission.
You (as executive management, development staff or board member) are a facilitator of philanthropy. Your organization exists, in part, to facilitate your donor’s quest for meaning and teach the joy of giving. To do this effectively, you must be attuned to your donors. And, since the wealthy have the ability to make a larger impact when it comes to furthering your mission, you especially must be attuned to these folks.
In the past I’ve looked at five major donor philanthropic triggers. You need to know about these things, because if you can key into any of them you’ll have a strong basis for pursuing a major gift from the prospect whom you’re approaching:
- They feel economically secure.
- They are in a reflective phase of life.
- They’ve demonstrated a desire to build a closer connection with your cause and community.
- They are looking for meaning and a sense of purpose.
- They are seeking to identify themselves as the person they want to see reflected in the mirror.
Today I’d like to review six more things you should be on the lookout for; then I’ll suggest four strategies to help you enter into your prospective donors’ worlds so you can make a win/win match – one that will help your major donors simultaneously help your cause and themselves.
Coincidentally, I 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 Lifestyles (now out of publication) describes 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.”
6 More Things You Should Know about Major Philanthropists
1. Major donors don’t want to give and get out.
“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 want to be your partner.
2. 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 want to give enough to assure the outcome happens.
3. 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’s 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 in which you wish to engage .
In many cases, philanthropy is triggered when donors feel resources have been entrusted to their care, and they must not betray this trust.
4. Many major donors consider themselves as mere custodians of wealth.
If you take the teachings described above 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 ego and responsibility. People feel good they were chosen as recipients of bounty and blessings; they then translate the bounty that’s been entrusted to them as significant of a trust that has been placed in them. A trust they must fulfill.
Many people understand their good fortune makes them responsible to show gratitude and take care of their neighbors.
5. 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.
6. Major philanthropists want to address root causes.
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.
It’s not about band-aids.
4 Strategies to Help Philanthropists Help Your Cause
You want change. They want to be change agents. Your job is to make a match!
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Create conditions where your donor can engage in meaningful growth.
Show them how to partner with you to make magic happen. Take donors on a transformative journey that gets them to self-actualization. Giving, sadly, is not always its own reward. Please, don’t discount the importance of your role. Most people like to have their hands held. If you won’t do it, someone at some other organization will.
4. 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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