There’s no shortage of major donors…

Yesterday I got away from campus to visit Save the Children to share some of our latest research and find out what people on the front line of fundraising are thinking about. It was an excellent trip,  Save has a very impressive set-up – over 100 fundraisers in a big open plan office, energetic people as far as the eye could see.

The main point of my talk was to share the findings of our first wave of research into Million Pound Donors, which is available online 

But it’s impossible to talk about major donor fundraising these days without acknowledging the elephant in the room that is the recession, so I spent a good bit of time debunking some of the more hysterical media headlines about ‘black holes’ in charity income and setting out my opinion that philanthropy can still thrive in a recession. Here’s why I think that:

(1) There’s no straightforward relationship between having wealth and giving it away.  As anyone who’s tried to raise funds knows – the capacity to give is not the same thing at all as the desire to give. 

(2) People don’t make donations just because they can afford to. If that were true then every rich person would be a philanthropist, and unfortunately, they’re not. Therefore, we make a mistake in assuming that the ups and downs of the wider economy will be directly translated into the ups and downs in giving.

(3) We shouldn’t under-estimate donors’ commitment to the causes they care about. All spending decisions involve prioritising and people can (and often do) choose to cut other things out of their budget before they touch their donations.

(4) There’s a danger in publicly panicking about potential falls in donations because it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We know that social norms matter  – a lot of time and effort has been spent encouraging the British public that it’s ‘normal’ to give – and now we risk undoing that by giving the impression that everyone else is dropping their giving, so they should too!

Save staff seemed to concur with much of what I said, including the risk of us talking ourselves into a giving recession, and I gather their income is holding up despite the economic crisis. (In fact, I’ve yet to meet a fundraiser who says their voluntary income is collapsing – it’s either stable or projected to rise, in one case as steeply as 30%!)

A lot of people liked the sentiment in my last slide, so I said I’d put it in my blog. It’s from a book by Jerold Panas called Mega Gifts: Who gives them, who gets them?, and it has always inspired me when I’ve been trying to raise funds:

“Mega givers are captivated by the opportunity, the challenge, the magic of being able to do something special, something others may not be in a position to do… There is no such thing as a shortage of major donors. There is only a shortage of great ideas to raise money. A desperate need for visions and dreams”.

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