Getting rich people to give

Theresa Lloyd and Dennis Tracey

Theresa Lloyd and Denis Tracey have recently published books about philanthropy, in Britain and Australia, respectively.[1] Though both are based on interviews with donors, they adopt very different approaches. Denis Tracey’s book, Giving it Away: In praise of philanthropy, is, as he says ‘a collection of stories’, drawn from interviews with named individuals, which celebrate individual generosity.

The approach is impressionistic; it is an attempt to inspire by showing how ‘intensely satisfying’ philanthropy can be. However, he also notes the need for a more detailed and more structured study.

Theresa Lloyd has adopted a more analytical approach. Her book, Why Rich People Give, is based on semi-structured interviews with a hundred anonymous wealthy individuals from a range of backgrounds, not all of whom are significant givers of money or time or expertise. As well as looking at their motives for giving, she places their philanthropy in the context of their views on wealth in general, and prevalent state and social attitudes to wealth and giving. She identifies a number of factors for promoting a culture of giving, including the need for donors to stand up and be counted, and for the identification and celebration of role models. So, by very different paths, both arrive at a recognition of the need to combine analysis and inspiration. When they discussed their findings, this was the starting point.

DENIS TRACEY I wanted to present stories in ways that would inspire others. I think they are more credible because people are named, but I suppose this may also have discouraged frankness. And of course some people just declined to talk to me at all.

THERESA LLOYD I agree that role models are important, but my book is primarily analytical and not so concerned with what specific people think or do. It was written mainly for fundraisers, as well as private wealth managers, employers and the government. None of these has commented on the anonymity of the individuals.

Why do people give?

DENIS TRACEY There are obviously differences between philanthropy in the UK and in Australia. I think we are a mix of British and American practice, though increasingly inclining towards the latter. Many of the more prominent Australian philanthropists, especially Jewish donors, came to this country comparatively recently, and have no historical or cultural links with Britain.

THERESA LLOYD One of the strongest influences on immigrant philanthropists in Britain, the USA and presumably Australia is the strong sense of gratitude that they feel towards the society in which they were able to flourish. My research also shows a very strong influence from their country and culture and religion of origin. This also applied with the Asian migrants who came to Britain from East Africa in the early 1970s. But it is impossible to rank the relative influences of gratitude and, for example, a tradition of tithing.

Several studies have documented that people seem to start giving mainly within their own community – geographical, religious or ethnic. In time their giving may become wider, taking in national arts institutions, for example.

DENIS TRACEY A lot of Australian philanthropy takes place within a family context.

THERESA LLOYD Yes. That’s also the case in Britain. It often seems that the person who makes the money sets up some sort of trust and the family carries it on. But in these cases you often find that the rest of the family aren’t actually giving any of their own money, but distributing the income from the trust set up by the parent. (Though they sometimes set up trusts of their own later.)

DENIS TRACEY I found that, too. When I was doing my interviews, the first question I usually asked was, ‘Do you consider yourself a philanthropist?’ A number of people replied that, no, they were administering a trust that had been set up by their father or grandfather.

THERESA LLOYD There are people like that who, while being imaginative and conscientious about running their family trusts, seem to feel that the family has given enough and they don’t intend giving any more.

People who are self-made, as opposed to having inherited wealth, seem to prefer to be more involved and to have an influence on how their donations are used. They believe they have more to offer than just money. Sometimes this means they try to reinvent the wheel, but they do want to learn. One of the very striking things that came out of my research was the real pleasure that comes from meeting new people and learning about a completely new field.

DENIS TRACEY Yes. Philanthropy can be a vehicle that encourages people to obtain and apply new knowledge and skills.

THERESA LLOYD I made a point of asking people how secure they felt about their wealth (I adopted the approach of Paul Schervish at Boston College). I found that people in the UK felt less secure than those in the US with comparable amounts of money. It sometimes seemed that they were not confident of being able to repeat the accumulation and so were inclined to hang on to their wealth.

I asked what would make them give more. In the UK the most common answer was ‘having more money’, followed by ‘finding a new cause about which I feel passionate’, while in the US (according to Schervish) these motives are reversed. It may follow that one important task for fundraisers is to reassure people that they can afford to give a bit more without risking their lifestyles or future circumstances. In the US, for example, one can receive tax relief now based on a commitment to donate in the future, and that seems an important idea which doesn’t exist in the UK.

DENIS TRACEY I noticed a slightly different expression of insecurity. Some people seemed to approach their giving as a sort of insurance – an offering to guard against bad fortune.

I am interested in how people decide to support one cause or one organization and not another. Somewhat to my surprise, most of the people I spoke to were not greatly troubled about this. One of them said simply, ‘I’m a businessman. I’m used to making decisions.’

THERESA LLOYD In the UK I found there was a range of views on the very basic question of whose job it is to pay for certain social goods. Everybody seems to think that the state should pay for the basic things such as healthcare, school education, transport, defence and so on, but there were a lot of diverse views on the margins.

DENIS TRACEY In Australia, too. Here, for example, there is a lively debate about the increasing amounts of government support for independent schools, especially the wealthier ones.

How do we encourage them to give more?

THERESA LLOYD In both your book and mine it’s clear that people need to feel that they are making a difference, that they can learn and be involved. In the US people commonly give to organizations on whose boards they sit. But this is less the case in the UK. Of course this involvement should not extend to influencing the organization’s overall strategic direction and its values, but there is an expectation that if you give money you will at least be asked for your views.

I think that an important role of a fundraiser is to facilitate donors’ overall engagement, and to ensure that those who deliver the mission are involved in this process.

DENIS TRACEY Yes. It’s absolutely clear that donors don’t want to feel that they are loved only for their money. They want to be respected for their expertise and knowledge and, of course, in a lot of cases, this expertise and knowledge is just as useful as the money they provide.

THERESA LLOYD The main things that induce people to give are either major life experiences (such as personal or family illness, or a brilliant education), or being influenced by another person they like or respect, or through experiencing something outstandingly good or bad, such as in the arts. These are personal responses which induce a passion for the cause and we need to find ways of encouraging them. I think organizations have huge opportunities by getting their trustees or existing donors to be their ambassadors, to introduce other people to the needs, the opportunities and the pleasure of giving and the buzz of being involved with other donors and meeting the beneficiaries. People need to understand what fun it all is.

DENIS TRACEY I agree, and I’m so pleased to hear you talk about fun. People sometimes confuse fun with frivolity. I think fun is important, especially in philanthropy. There’s no point in trying to convince people to be more generous by criticizing them. That’s more likely to have the opposite effect.

THERESA LLOYD Yes. People don’t decide to give because they feel they ought to, but because their hearts, their intellect and their imaginations have been unlocked by some experience. At that point they will give, and if they find the experience is pleasurable, they will keep giving. It’s also important that we keep rewarding people who give, because that encourages others.

Moreover, if people do give unwillingly, or don’t enjoy the experience, they won’t repeat it. It won’t become part of their family values that get passed on to their children.

The discussion could have gone on for far longer. What can be seen is that with very different starting points, and from opposite sides of the world, the two authors were in broad agreement about the key factors needed for effective and enjoyable philanthropy, and the importance of embedding the values which underpin such giving into family tradition.

1 Theresa Lloyd (2004) Why Rich People Give Association of Charitable Foundations, London. Obtainable from

Denis Tracey (2003) Giving it Away: In praise of philanthropy Scribe, Melbourne. Obtainable from

Theresa Lloyd is an independent consultant who advises charities and arts organisations on strategic planning, board development and fundraising. She can be contacted at

Denis Tracey is the deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University, Melbourne. He can be contacted at

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