Why we need to keep donors at the heart of the giving journey


Fiona Halton


A good friend told me a story. She and her other two siblings had each been given a rather large sum in trust and were able to choose which charity to give it to.  The first and second siblings gave it to a cause they cared about and received a nice thank you letter and that was that. Job done. My friend asked to give a bursary and ended up getting involved year after year, as did her family, both in the guidelines for the bursary and then the recipients.  And she loves it and the cause.

You could say this was just good donor management. You could argue it was the nature of the cause. I say it was all about taking my friend on an adventure.  Seeing her as a partner.

Dr Beth Breeze from Kent University talks about philanthropic giving as a life long journey rather than a series of unrelated giving acts. She recommends that: “shifting the focus to growing life long givers rather than gaining specific gifts, is more likely to achieve the overall goal of growing a stronger culture of philanthropy in the UK.”

My experience over the last few months in setting up Social Venture Partners London is of working with people who just want to learn more, to get more involved.  They are on a journey.

What the Partners have in common is that they want to leverage their giving as a group and make their giving more effective. And to do that they have to involve themselves more in the voluntary sector and learn.

They had no particular cause as they sat down for the first meeting of Social Venture Partners London beyond knowing they wanted to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged people. Their first task was to work together to identify an issue area and find out about the level of need in London.

They all agree that success for Social Venture Partners will be to identify great charities they can work with. The Partners know that they want to make a difference in an area where their contribution is much needed.

And success will also be the development of their philanthropy.

If in a few year’s time, if the partners move on to get involved with other organisations we will not be downcast. In fact, we might be celebrating. The measure will be to see that they learned, that their giving of time and money becomes deeper and more strategic. The Partners will be moving on to do more giving. Social Venture Partners, the organisation, sees itself as part of their journey – a facilitator and guide.

Importantly, every one who joins SVP is a Partner, not a member and the organisation is there to serve them. It is a different way of looking at the giver where their potential in shaping civil society is recognized. Givers are not merely fuel for non-profits.

We are often brilliant at coming up with triggers to giving. We have the best campaigns. Yet the challenge for Children in Need or GivingTuesday is what next? If the campaign succeeds it has a group of people who will have dug deep and feel warm about their giving. Is a thank you enough? Or, even, see you next year?

People have much more to give and to share than we imagine or, even, than they imagine. One giver in Dr Breeze’s report realized this: “After a while your confidence builds and you realize that you actually might have insight or a different approach to something that is genuinely helpful”.

Tellingly, that giver works with the charity Pilotlight. Dr Breeze’s study of volunteer engagement at Pilotlight shows that it results in a 12% rise in giving of significant gifts and a three-fold rise in volunteer’s desire to be trustees.

Seeing things through the giver end of the telescope is a life affirming experience. As SVP says it starts with one person. One person joins many. Together they will build communities intent on solving our most entrenched problems.

It does not have to be a huge gift that prompts the journey. It can be a random single figure gift, which we then see as a first step on a journey. The question is how to continue that journey over a lifetime. What are the triggers and barriers?

This is what we are studying at Philanthropy in Action. SVP is but one of several initiatives we are incubating.

My friend was smart enough to work out she wanted a journey. We need to be smart too.

Fiona Halton, is Chief Executive of Philanthropy in Action and runs Social Venture Partners London. For further information, please contact: traceyould@philanthropyinaction.org.uk or info@socialventurepartnerslondon.org

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