More sophisticated, knowledgeable and strategic philanthropists: a challenge for charities?


Ruth Mantle


Ruth Mantle

At ‘The World of Philanthropy and Why Rich People Give in 2013’ at Cass Business School in May 2013, Theresa Lloyd  and Caroline Underwood shared their impressive experience as fundraisers, donors and advisors to philanthropists. The event brought together fundraisers, CEOs and trustees from small and large charities, all wanting to learn how to nurture the best relationship with their major supporters.

The world of philanthropy in the UK is still a secretive one, with only a few philanthropists willing to speak publicly about why and how they want to give. For those working with philanthropists to create a positive giving experience, it is critical they understand the motivations, perspectives and opinions of philanthropists – especially those in the UK.

Theresa Lloyd’s research in 2002 (published in Why Rich People Give in 2004) provided the first significant study of UK wealthy donors’ reasons to give. Event attendees were pleased to hear that a 10-year update of the study, this time written in collaboration with Dr Beth Breeze, director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, will be published in September 2013. Although the results of the research are still being analysed, Theresa shared some themes of the research, which led to an engaging discussion led by Caroline. Some themes emerged from the event:

All philanthropists are individuals

Campaigns and appeals are widely used in the charitable sector as a fundraising mechanism including in the field of major gifts. There was a lively discussion about whether these were suitable for philanthropists and there was a strong argument put forward to all individual donors giving at a significant level to be treated as individuals and not squeezed into a ‘one size fits all’ campaign or appeal donor.

A relationship is key

The research and experience in the room reiterated the importance to the philanthropist of a relationship with the charity. Philanthropists are still reporting negative experiences with charities including, asking for a major gift despite having no previous relationship. There are very few philanthropists who would consider giving a donation without a strong relationship with the charity before and after the gift. The participants were challenged with the findings that philanthropists rarely want a relationship with a fundraiser but want to engage with senior leadership or their peers who are involved in the charity. The trustees and CEO’s at the seminar were receptive to the idea of the need for their involvement in the process.

Building a strong relationship takes time and money

Building strong relationships with philanthropists takes time, and not just the time of the fundraiser. The group discussed how much time needed to be invested and by whom. An example was given of a CEO investing up to 30% of their time for philanthropy. The group agreed how powerful it can be to set aside a portion of time of the people that philanthropists want to meet – whether the curators in a gallery or scientists in a medical research charity.

The old rule of thumb with major gifts is that it takes between 12 and 18 months to build a relationship. There were those in the room who argued that this has now stretched to 36-48 months. This prompted discussions over how best to report progress to trustees during this period and the need for a reduction in staff turnover in major gifts departments.

What difference will my money make?

A key part of a donor’s motivation to give is confidence that the money will make a difference. This was a key finding in 2002 and remains the case now. The group discussed how well charities were communicating this at both the pre-gift and after-gift stages. An interesting question was posed: how many major gift fundraisers have ‘reporting back to philanthropists’ as a point in their job description?

The giving experience

Stories were shared on philanthropists still experiencing a poor thanking and stewardship process from charities. A quote from 2002 was from one donor wishing that someone would just come and tell him what his money had been spent on rather than a proforma thank you letter, and this still happens. A challenge was put to the group to create impactful giving experiences for philanthropists.

Ruth Mantle is chair of the Major Donor Special Interest Group at the Institute of Fundraising The Major Donor Special Interest Group is open to everyone working in or interested in philanthropy. If you would like to join the Major Donor Special Interest Group, please email

Tagged in: Donor relationships Fundraising major donors UK

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