Engaging philanthropists: This time it's personal: By Dr. Tim France


"…I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life giving my time, money and skills to worthwhile endeavours where I could make a difference. I didn’t know exactly what I would do, but I wanted to help save lives, solve important problems, and give more young people the chance to live their dreams" (1)

While personal philanthropy has always played a role in the non-profit and development world, the tide has been quietly turning in ways that have increased its relative importance to the fundraising efforts of many organizations:

* Institutional donors have come under increasing pressure to reduce their transaction costs – preferring to administer larger grants to fewer organizations.
* The current climate of economic decline and uncertainty in many countries is bringing into question the sustainability of overseas development assistance programmes of industrialized countries and undermining the capital reserves of established foundations.
* Recent foreign exchange rate fluctuations have made the spending value of some secured grants unpredictable.
* Corporate and personal fortunes, combined with an increasing awareness of widespread equity challenges in many nations and communities, are fuelling a new era in philanthropy.

Engaging individual or corporate philanthropists is not simply a matter of sending the same fundraising proposal to a different contact. In many instances, new family foundations and corporate giving programmes reflect a personal motivation to make a difference in the world. In addition to being more ‘business-like’ than institutional donors (e.g. requiring higher levels of clarity and accountability), individual founders are often actively involved in their foundations. This means that understanding the underlying motivation of personal giving is vital to designing a sustainable philanthropy outreach and engagement programme.

Philanthropists are often driven by more personal needs and wants than other donors. They give, at least in part, based on an exchange of values that allows them to:

* enhance their own sense of self-worth
* see themselves in the beneficiaries being served
* do the ‘right’ thing
* create a return (or benefit) on their investment.

Loyalty and trust are key ingredients of philanthropist engagement. They are each commanded by organizations that:

* are seen as leaders in their field
* connect with supporters emotionally
* provide relevance and meaning
* help supporters to make a statement about what they value
* help supporters meet their own vision for the world
* provide them with a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves.

Engaging philanthropists should first be about building relationships based on the assumption that they are interested in the success of your organization, and as a means to mobilize resources second.

"Yesterday, the most successful non-profits were those that donors knew best. Today, the most successful non-profits are those that know their donors best" (2)

1. Former US President Bill Clinton in his book Giving: How each of us can change the world.
2. From: Hart et al (2005): Nonprofit internet strategies: Best practices for marketing, communications and fundraising.

(The author is the Managing Director, Inís. Website: www.inis.ie)

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