Rousting the Rich: Inspiring the Wealthy to Give More
On the day of thanks, my blog was still due. I could’ve written some blathering tripe about giving thanks or I could lambast the wealthy. And I was in a mood—anticipating political debates over the Thanksgiving table. Even Adele’s “Hello” wouldn’t help keep the biscuits on the table instead of in the air.
It’s well-known that the wealthy give less, as a percentage of income, than the less affluent. According to Ken Stern’s “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give,” the top 20 percent of earners give about 1.3 percent of their incomes to charity; the lowest 20 percent of earners give 3.2 percent of their incomes.
How come? Otis Fulton, who also happens to be Turnkey’s staff psychologist and my husband, loves a good question. Prior to going to bed the night before Thanksgiving, I planted this seed in my beloved’s mind: “I wonder why the affluent give less?”
Upon awakening the next morning, my inbox was flooded with references and links to other people’s ideas and research about the answer (Otis at work). Over far too much coffee Thanksgiving morning, we read and discussed the potential reasons and interventions.
We read a lot, and here’s what became clear to us: You give to what you can see, to what you experience, to what is in proximity to you. The wealthy give less, but what they do give, they give to what is in front of them—the opera, museums, universities, hospitals, etc. The less wealthy give to what is in front of them—hunger, disease, abuse, needy children, etc. And regardless of income, exposure to need creates empathy. What the wealthy often lack is exposure.
One interesting finding that makes us believe that giving level and beneficiary is about proximity is that there is a difference in giving among the wealthy. Those in more heterogeneous neighborhoods give more than those in insular, homogeneous neighborhoods.
One might think that conservatives give less than liberals. In fact, poor conservatives give, by percentage of income, more than wealthy liberals. But guess what: poor conservatives live where? They live in proximity to poor people. It is not about party affiliation. It is about proximity.
How can we get more wealthy people to give more? We do it by gaining proximity. We know that if you put someone’s body in action, his or her mind will surely follow. If we concentrated on getting more wealthy folks to interact in volunteer capacities, for example, we create proximity.
How often do we ask the wealthy to deliver food, to show up with a hammer, to work a disaster? If we did ask them to participate in mission delivery, we would create proximity and the propensity to give bigger.
On the other hand, how often have we seen the museum gala committee, people who spent countless hours deciding what color the decorations should be and on whom they could lean to buy a table, in the society pages? They are giving as they know how, and I applaud them for it.
We are failing our organizations and the wealthy by not creating the same proximity for our missions. I know a dollar buys more than an hour of service donated, which is why we don’t often ask for service. But that is shortsighted in terms of fundraising. We have to get them to “do” in proximity to the problem before the big money shows up.
If we took this path, our fundraising communication plans would change and our volunteer managers would become more important.
- Ask for a little money.
- Ask for a little more money.
- Ask for even more money.
- Ask for an action to create proximity.
- Ask for more action to create more proximity.
- Ask for even more action to create even more proximity.
- Ask for money (and you probably won’t even need to ask ...).
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.