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Step one to ‘demystifying philanthropic giving’: Skip the elevator pitch

Patricia LePera, Danielle Amato-Milligan, Amanda DiChello, Valerie Jones and Sidney Hargro. (Photo by Albert Hong) June 15, 2017 Category: EventFeaturedFundingLong
Here’s some good news for nonprofits and charitable organizations:

A recent national study on the motivations, priorities and strategies of wealthy donors shows that the trend of giving is healthy and will remain strong for the near future.

According to the 2016 U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, the sixth such study in a series conducted by U.S. Trust: Bank of America Private Wealth Management and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 91 percent of American high net worth households surveyed donated to charity last year. In 2015, they gave an average of $25,509.

When asked if they would give as much or more in the next three years than they did in 2015, 83 percent of wealthy donors said they plan to.

But as Amanda DiChello, a partner at Saul Ewing LLP and chair of the firm’s Private Client Services Group, pointed out during a panel yesterday hosted by the Arts + Business Council of Greater Philadelphia and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, many of those wealthy donors also want to feel more knowledgeable about their giving.

Read the report

The study cited that 94 percent of all wealthy donors would like to know more about at least one aspect of charitable giving, whether it be figuring out the right volunteer opportunities or just getting to know more about how nonprofits serve their intended populations. DiChello said it’s the job of people like her, and the other three panelists, to help donors with this knowledge quest.

“I think it’s primarily an education issue, making sure that they understand their options,” DiChello said, “and making sure that they feel most comfortable and trusting of the organization they’re giving to.”

That idea of nonprofits and likeminded organizations needing to share impact, tell stories and build relationships permeated the rest of the discussion.

Danielle Amato-Milligan, a practice expert in the Institutional Investments & Philanthropic Solutions Consulting & Advisory Group, spoke to the importance of understanding on a personal level “what drives your donors and what drives your board” when it comes to “demystifying philanthropic giving and fundraising.”

There can often be a “disconnect between what fundraisers think donors want to hear and what donors want to hear,” Amato-Milligan said — and accordingly, nonprofits must get rid of that elevator pitch and instead focus on making those personal connections.

That’s called “stewardship,” and it’s something Sidney Hargro, executive director of the Community Foundation of South Jersey, has succeeded in doing well on a fairly large scale: Since Hagro assumed the role of ED for the foundation in 2009, it grew from $400,000 to more than $20 million in assets (numbers that drew a good amount of applause).

Hargro, who would rather call himself a “community builder” than a fundraiser, said part of the way he did it was by creating a platform on the foundation’s website called Proven & Promising that donors could use to discuss what projects and initiatives they’ve supported. He also said storytelling, among the other purposes it can serve for nonprofits, can be a method of much-needed self-evaluation.

“Stories are the public presentation of what you’ve learned about your results internally,” Hargro said.

Valerie Jones, CEO of her own philanthropy consultancy firm, Valerie M. Jones Associates, apparently agreed about the power of storytelling: She teared up when recounting an instance of thank-you letters being written to donors by the very people who benefited from their giving.

“Giving is emotional,” Jones said — which Patricia LePera, president of SteegeThomson Communication and moderator of the panel, immediately followed by saying, “It’s about people and people give from the heart.”

Some other lessons from the panel:

  • When helping board members or volunteers become more comfortable asking for money, Jones said her theater background has taught her how “it’s all about casting” the right roles for each different person. And don’t start them with asking people who’ve never given before — “That’s like putting a toddler on a Harley Davidson.”
  • The study cited that women participated in 89 percent of all high net worth household philanthropic decisions, either with their spouse or partner or as the only decision-maker, and DiChello said charities should focus more on this growing number of women philanthropists. The study also cited that African Americans and women were more likely to give to the sectors of youth or women and girls’ causes and organizations.
  • The study cites that a majority of wealthy donors, 74 percent make unrestricted gifts — though as Hargro mentioned, there is a challenge in communicating the results of unrestricted funds versus restricted funds to donors.

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