Are the Rich Motivated to Give Differently?
Understand These Five Philanthropic Triggers
In 2006, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Schervish’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy $600,000 to conduct a first-of-a-kind survey of the ultra-wealthy—those with a net worth of at least $25 million. The findings revealed a number of areas that trigger consideration of philanthropic giving. Consider these triggers as you develop your plans to ask for major gifts.
1. Feeling Economically Secure. The findings showed a strong correlation between feelings of economic security and a willingness to give. Individual circumstances strongly color these perceptions. (My definition of economic security is not necessarily your definition. Someone with $50 million tied up in a business may feel more precarious than a person with a modest lifestyle and $5 million in safe investments).
ASK YOURSELF: Do I have reason to believe the prospect we’re approaching feels economically secure?
2. Reflections. Schervish’s surveys did not just result in data collection. They had the ancillary effect of prompting reflection by respondents. They reported that the questions made them think hard about their philanthropic choices. Just because someone has not been a philanthropist in the past does not necessarily mean they won’t be one in the future. Often, those who’ve been very successful in business have been so single-mindedly focused on making money and building power that they’ve never had time to reflect on giving.
Schervish believes the rising tide of wealth and philanthropy could lead to a kind of spiritual awakening among America’s very wealthy. He notes: “An era has begun where people are finding themselves with deeper pockets and fuller hearts.”
ASK YOURSELF: If I ask this prospect to consider a philanthropic gift, might it help them to veer off the tunnel-visioned path they’ve been on?
3. Community Connections. Rather than simply take their wealth and invest in new businesses or pass it to their heirs, philanthropy can be an attractive way to draw people into the same kind of direct, caring relationship they have with their family—and then multiply that feeling by extending it outwards to accomplish even greater good.
Or, if they don’t have a close family connection, they can get one by approaching philanthropy as a transformational relationship entered into for the benefit of all beings—including every individual who chooses to give.
ASK YOURSELF: Has this prospect demonstrated a desire to build a closer relationship and a deeper connection with our organization and cause?
4. A Sense of Purpose. For most people, meaning is deeply intertwined with community connections. Humans want to feel a sense of connection and purpose to life. Giving (time, money and energy) is a central way we strive to find meaning. By expanding their vision of helping outside the confines of their family and business, innovative philanthropists intensely engage the human experiment and are willing to direct their full resources towards human betterment.
Show these philanthropists a need and they will respond precisely because, when they do so, it will create not just ripples but powerful tides.
ASK YOURSELF: Does this prospect like to feel like a “big shot” and, if so, am I prepared to show them philanthropy offers a path unlike any other?
5. A Drive Towards Transformation. To create life-long donors requires meeting their highest level need. Maslow describes this as “identification”—where donors incorporate their affiliation with you as part of their being (e.g., “I am a Greenpeace donor”). In non-psychological or theoretical terms, they just feel darn good. They carry around a warm glow, representing the realization of their full potential and inner peace.
This feeling is very powerful—and we naturally seek it out—which is one of reasons why even very poor give outsized proportions of their income to charity. One of the most significant trends in giving involves seeing philanthropy as an act that not only helps someone else, but changes the philanthropist also.
ASK YOURSELF: How can I facilitate my prospect’s sense of identification as a good person?
Philanthropy helps philanthropists. So don’t fear asking.
P.S. In my next post we’ll take a closer look at how major donors think about their own philanthropy so you can do an even more effective job facilitating transformative giving. If you want to hear from several other experts too, please join me for a one-of-a-kind Virtual Major Gifts Master Class Series + Clinic.
Do you think the rich are motivated to give differently?