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Giving is a very personal experience which different donors approach in unique ways. For some, anonymity is important, but when reaching out to new organisations this can create interesting and unexpected challenges.
How can funders communicate effectively with charities?
One major giver, who does not seek the limelight for his giving, set up his giving plan five years ago by calculating how much money he and his wife wanted to leave to their children and dividing the remainder of their assets by 20. This process created a 20-year plan to give a certain amount away each year.
He has a substantial amount to give each year, but he quickly learnt giving large sums is not a straightforward process.
“Once you get to a certain level of giving there are a limited number of organisations that can manage that level of gift.”
Not wanting to be on the radar of all organisations, he prefers anonymity and to make his own rigorous selection. For him, good governance, good financial processes and the capacity to absorb sizeable levels of funding are all important in the selection of the charities he support. This information can be hard to find and takes a great deal of time to research.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he knew that he should do more to respond to the increased need. Thinking about which issues were important, he decided he wanted to make a series of donations to charities in the UK that had programmes tackling the general response, domestic violence and food poverty. On completion of his research, he contacted six organisations.
As a donor who prefers a low-key approach, the email connection to each of the six organisations simply referenced the offer of a “substantial donation”. The amount he wanted to give ran to seven-figures.
Among the six charities, four did not respond and one sent a link to the website donate button.
As he is not on the radar of most fundraisers, the offer was overlooked.
The British Red Cross was the only organisation to respond and did so promptly within 24 hours. Naomi Glancy, Head of Philanthropy at the British Red Cross, admits the email approach was unique, but it is important to connect personally with all potential major donors, even those whose offers of help come out of the blue.
Following a discussion with the donor, Naomi facilitated one-on-one conversations with the UK Executive Director and the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross.
“This engagement gave me belief in the organisation’s competency,” and as a consequence he decided to give an unrestricted amount at a higher value than he had originally planned.
This has greatly assisted the British Red Cross to adapt its COVID-19 response, addressing pinch points flexibly as they were discovered and responding to the needs of the beneficiaries rapidly.
As an experienced donor and trustee, he recognises that organisations need unrestricted funding, and that restricting gifts can lead to greater wastage. He provides significant unrestricted funding to those he trusts and whose leadership knows how to prioritise their gifts.
He believes that if he wants to be effective in his giving, a rational approach is important. It is important to do the sums; to know how much you can afford to give away over a lifetime and in response to immediate need. It is also important to figure out how deeply you want to be involved with organisations you support. The more you can trust an organisation, the easier it becomes to make a sizeable gift without the need for oversight or control.
The lesson for fundraisers is to build trust from the very first interaction. Philanthropists come in many forms and are more likely to open up to you, if you open up first to them.