Philanthropy Is Sold, Not Bought

By now, insiders in the philanthropy world have scoured The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Philanthropy 50 survey of the 50 largest donors in the country.

We're searching for the silver bullet for attracting these very large gifts of $100 million and more. Isn't our organization as worthy as these recipients? Don't we know donors who know people who know these people? How does one engage donors like these?

The Chronicle seeks to help with various analyses. Evidently, donors' wealth comes significantly from finance, real estate and technology. Twice as many of the donors live on the West Coast as on the East Coast (confirming what fundraising/development people have recognized for years - that the foundation and high net worth donor industry is shifting definitively to the West Coast). The lion's share of the recipients of the donations are in the Northeast.

The types of organizations that received the big gifts are dominated by colleges and universities, family foundations and funds, and a range of human service groups. Do these organizations provide a higher "return on gift" than others? Good measures of impact are not yet widely used in the sector so the answer is: "not likely."

Clues to the whereabouts of the silver bullet can be found by cross referencing the recipients of the largest gifts with the client lists of the biggest advertisers in the publication, namely the fundraising software and consulting industry.

The colleges and universities and other organizations that top the list of recipients are the largest and longest standing clients of the fundraising software and consulting services.

In other words, like stocks and funds in the financial sector, philanthropy is sold, not bought. The organizations that received the big gifts are the ones that asked, regularly and in engaging ways. They do the "blocking and tackling" of sales -- identify the target, manage contacts actively through a customer relationship management database, develop relationships with gatekeepers, work to learn the timing of liquidity events, develop customized giving opportunities to meet donor needs, deal with complex assets to facilitate gifts, etc.

That this year's gifts are bigger than ever indicates that our industry is maturing. Yet many, many organizations are way behind on these new requirements for success.

Scouring the list is not going to help. This is an issue for the board room where tougher conversations about how to invest effectively in fundraising and fund development need to be had.

What is the right amount of resources? Who are the right people? How long do we need to stay the course before seeing returns? (The answer to that is 18-36 months, so boards need to quit firing the new fundraising professional after the first year!) The Chronicle devotes a long feature under trends and ideas to "What Makes Fund Raisers Succeed" in its very next issue, but it is only available to subscribers. How can we get to boards with this crucial issue?

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:01 AM, Feb 28, 2008 in High Net Worth Donors | Philanthropic Strategy | Scaling Philanthropy | Permalink | Comment