How Do Major Donors Think About Philanthropy?
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.
And, if you want to succeed in any kind of fundraising (major or otherwise), it behooves you to get inside your donors’ heads.
Lifestyles Magazine gives us a clue. For 50 years it's billed itself as:
“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 that 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 that the amount of the ask is often the last thing that comes up. First, we talk about what a gift can accomplish.
Once the donors 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 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.
In fact, the teachings are that everything we have in this world is not ours but is given to us so that we can be prudent stewards. These resources have been entrusted to our care, and we must not betray this trust.