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.
We are mere custodians.
If you take this teaching to heart, it becomes incumbent upon you to take care of those who have not been as blessed.
I love this teaching, because it plays to both our ego and our responsibility. We feel good that 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.
Paul G. Schervish recently co-authored "Wealth and the Will of God: Discerning the Use of Riches in Search of Ultimate Purpose." The book 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.
Another book, "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.
A new wave of conscious philanthropy is rising that reflects these insights and 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 Buffett, 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, therefore viewing themselves as conduits who possess a large fortune for the purpose of being able to redistribute it to needy causes in their lifetimes.
How you can help philanthropists to 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.
Fully engage your philanthropist’s total self—his or her knowledge, values, worldview, beliefs, talents, awareness and skills.
The philanthropic relationship thus involves dreams, ideas, and talents in addition to money. Your job is to create conditions where donors can engage in meaningful growth while partnering with you to make magic happen.
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.”
P.S. Want to delve deeper into this topic and also learn practical tips for facilitating major gift philanthropy? Please join me for a one-of-a-kind Virtual Major Gifts Master Class Series + Clinic. Also see my companion article, “Are the Rich Motivated to Give Differently?”
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.