What Donors Want – a podcast with irreverent philanthropy advice


Rachel Stephenson Sheff


Major gift fundraising is an alchemy of art and science, with the skill of relationship building at its core. In today’s shifting landscape, the need (and competition for) funding has never been fiercer, and criticisms of traditional philanthropy have never been more mainstream. Power is finally starting to shift – so how can fundraisers leverage this moment, particularly when the resilience of non-profits largely depends on the strength of their donor relationships?

I produce a podcast called What Donors Want where we ask donors questions just like this – and we are thrilled to announce Alliance magazine as our new Media Partner. The premise of What Donors Want is simple: to have fresh, dynamic (and slightly irreverent) conversations about major gift fundraising with donors themselves. While the show was originally made for a fundraising audience, it has grown into something much larger for both donors and non-profits, as we aim to give an honest look behind the philanthropic iron curtain.

We’ve had 28 interviews so far, covering topics from philanthropic leadership to decolonizing giving. If you’re new to the show, here are some great places to start:

  • To learn about philanthropic trends during COVID-19, listen to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • To learn about the power of storytelling (and if you’re a Love Actually fan), listen to Richard Curtis.
  • To learn about the new frontier of livestream fundraising, listen to Twitch.
  • To learn about what it’s like to be President of a major grant-making body, listen to Larry Kramer from The Hewlett Foundation.
  • To learn about participatory grant-making, listen to panelists from the With and For Girls Collective.
  • To learn about celebrity giving, listen to Sara Elisa Miller, Director of Philanthropy for Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • To learn about how both donors and fundraisers can decolonize their approach to philanthropy, listen to Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth.

What I love about hosting each episode is the conversations get more interesting – and more challenging. Over the years we’ve stayed true to our roots (what do donors actually want from the fundraisers who cultivate them?), but we’ve also gotten bolder. How can anti-capitalist activists make peace with philanthropic fundraising? What does power-shifting stewardship look like? What are tangible, replicable examples of participatory grant-making, and how can funders secure buy-in for this within their own institutions?

Partnering with publications like Alliance magazine, alongside our Season 3 Sponsor, Segal Family Foundation, inspires us to be bolder and to ask donors questions fundraisers often can’t. If not us, then who? As my colleague Emily Collins-Ellis writes, this is no time for neutrality – and What Donors Want is slowly turning into the power-shifting soapbox I always dreamed it would be.

We’ll be sharing insights from the show in Alliance magazine moving forward – as well, if you have any burning questions for a future What Donors Want guest, submit them here and you’ll get a shout out on air! Coming up next we have the National Lottery Community Fund, Mama Cash, Obama Foundation, Ford Foundation, and much more.

Rachel Stephenson Sheff is a Senior Advisor at I.G. Advisors and Lightful

What Donors Want is a podcast by I.G. Advisors, and available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher & SoundCloud. Season 3 is officially sponsored by Segal Family Foundation and Alliance magazine is our Media Partner.

Tagged in: Funding practice

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