Donor education is vital

Michael Alberg-Seberich

Paul Shoemaker (December 2010) is right: we have to raise the bar for philanthropy. He is right that a crucial success factor for the quality of philanthropy is the philanthropists themselves. But donor education is not a new idea. Have organizations like ours failed in their efforts to equip donors with knowledge and tools to be more strategic in their giving?

A key challenge is that being a philanthropist is often a passion and not a job. If giving is not an expression of one’s passion it will never become strategic. This is why donor education needs to be about exploring the world, sharing experiences with other donors and sometimes even giving together with others. Above all, it is about promoting empathy towards people and causes, since these are the drivers of giving. It is this peer-to-peer approach that will help to raise the bar for philanthropy. It is also a limiting factor as many donors still see their giving as a very personal deed, especially outside of the Anglo-American world.

We have experienced this recently when we started to publish, in conjunction with the German daily newspaper Die Welt, a series of portraits of US and European donors. The reactions to the series have been positive. For us, they were an indicator that donor education starts with talking about good examples. This underlines that in the world of donor education we need more and more to use communication and advocacy – levers we all talk about when explaining strategic philanthropy. Raising the bar for philanthropy will become easier if we take this path jointly around the world.

Michael Alberg-Seberich
Executive partner, Active Philanthropy


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