Are Donor Education Workshops Right for you?


Nicolas Makharashvili


otarToday, more than ever before, individual philanthropists are aiming to incubate innovative solutions to social problems and pioneering diverse approaches to charitable giving by bringing to scale demonstration projects that show how to put every single charitable dollar to work to create lasting change. Taking advantage of this trend, fee-based workshop-style programmes promising to give philanthropists the skills, knowledge and networks to increase the impact of their giving are springing up overnight. Recent innovations in philanthropy combined with next generation donorsdistinct interest in high engagement, strategy and understanding of leverage in philanthropy have only contributed to a growing need for these programmes.

Similarly, there is an apparent upsurge in more hands-on giving by individual donors wanting to get their hands dirty and gain insight into philanthropic innovation and scale. In short, donors are eyeing to become more effectual social innovators, embracing failure as a learning opportunity and innovating new norms. Correspondingly, driven by profit maximization, several financial institutions, primarily banks and private wealth management firms, offer philanthropic services and advisory services fully tailored to client needs, from help with choosing the right grantees to setting up a foundation, these institutions have played a vital role in the recent metamorphosis in generosity. However, a recent US Trust study, published in October 2013 (see p9 of the December issue of Alliance), revealed several disconnects between high net worth individuals and advisers. The study found that many advisers overestimate the importance of tax benefits as a motivation for giving.

At the other end of the spectrum, several non-profit organizations offer workshop-style donor education programmes promising high results without compromising the deeply personal component of giving and engaging client values, emotions and experiences. There are four factors one must consider before committing to these workshops.

Vision for change

Philanthropy starts with a vision, with an idea that forms in the heart and articulates in the brain. Having a vision is important but its powerless if philanthropy is not there to support it, fuel it and turn it into action. Have an idea but dont know where to start, who to talk to? Most programmes include a session around developing a strategic charitable portfolio and creating a roadmap for individual philanthropy that also includes mastering the art of due diligence on social benefit organizations and, most importantly, learning how to evaluate success and failure.

Network building

A growing number of philanthropists are covering new ground towards meaningful impact, from influencing policy to advancing education, and increasingly they are realizing that collaboration is an essential part of any strategy. The benefit of these workshops is that they offer a unique opportunity to become an engaged member of the exclusive alumni network that comes together as a group several times a year through various workshops and events to bond over a glass of wine, encouraging collaboration and collective impact maximization.


Most donor education workshops, while run by non-profits, are based on a for-profit model and involve costs, such as tuition and travel expenses. For example, The Philanthropy Workshop, run by the Institute for Philanthropy, headquartered in London with offices in New York and Toronto, charges a fee of US$30,000 for a three-week-long workshop divided into three modules held in London, New York and a developing country. If youre giving away a million then by all means spend the extra $30,000 to better your humanity loving skills, but if you keep your giving to a maximum of $100,000 to $200,000 a year then perhaps reading a simple manual on conducting due diligence will suffice.

Social issues

If you’re seeking to gain a deeper knowledge of an issue then youre probably better off taking a class at a local college that will primarily deal with the issue youre trying to tackle. While these workshops touch upon certain potential funding areas, they rarely go in-depth. However, you will get a chance to meet some of the worlds best thinkers and leaders in philanthropy working on a variety of issues, alongside community innovators and social entrepreneurs.

The marketing success of these programmes is a clear indication that individuals want to be more hands-on, strategic and informed in their giving and often they sign up for these workshops expecting to find the key to the right way to give. This only leads to disappointment. The only way to rip the benefits of philanthropic education is to take in the basics of strategy and use it as a building block for your own vision for a better world.

Nicolas Makharashvili is program manager at Bolder Giving.

Tagged in: Donor education

Comments (2)


This is very insightful!

Michael Tompkins

Good to know!!!

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