A Transformational Role: Donor and Charity Perspectives on Major Giving in Australia

By Wendy Scaife, Katie McDonald and Susan Smyllie, Queensland University of Technology, The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, Feb 2011

This excellent study is a rich exploration of why people make major gifts in Australia, their experiences of giving and those of the gift recipients. The study ‘taps into the thoughts of nearly 50 Australians involved in major giving’ and uses a qualitative, small group discussion research method. The project aims to ‘give public voice to the perceptions, attitudes and concerns of Australians who have chosen to act philanthropically in a sizeable and ongoing way’. The study also provides a voice for fundraisers and gift recipients, providing a valuable insight into contemporary Australian experience from both sides of the encounter. The aim is to provide insight into ways this finance model, with its unique benefits to the community, can be improved.

Major gifts in this study are defined as those over $10,000, a surprisingly low number but one which is a relevant threshold in the Australian context. It highlights the fact that, as the study suggests, ‘major giving is not the norm here’. The report recommends that changes are needed to our major gifts ‘system’, including from our non-profit boards and fundraisers.

The report seeks to illuminate the minds and hearts of ‘deliberative givers’ and their expectations and requirements. ‘Evidence from the study and elsewhere says larger gifts transform those who ask, who give, and even their children and future generations’. The issue of public, known-donor giving, and the costs of Australia’s code of ‘quiet giving’ are examined.

Key findings are outlined in six sections: Defining major gifts; Influential major gift contexts; Donor characteristics; Fundraiser characteristics; Donor decision-making; Communications aspects of the major gift experience.

The key messages of the report highlight eleven critical issues:

1. Major wealth: major generosity. The generous impulse is intact in some parts of affluent Australia – albeit not all of it.

2. Major wealth: minor givers. Many wealthy Australians are perceived by their peers to not be giving, or to be giving significantly less than they might readily be able to give.

3. Major giving: major potential in Australia. Particularly measured against the numbers of Australians who could make major gifts, respondents highlight great unrealised potential as a funding model for community need.

4. Major question mark: is there an Australian culture of giving? Some respondents affirm an Australian culture of giving, particularly major giving, exists but when probed to describe it few respondents are forthcoming except so say that it very often has a code of quiet giving.

5. Major giving: deliberate choice. Many respondents report that giving for them is embedded in living a life that is financially advantaged. It is also closely aligned with their values and their self-concept: major giving is part of who they are, a life choice. It is not something done because it is expected: it is a conscious choice.

6. Major giving: major decisions but no single path. The data does not suggest that the decision-making in major giving is a linear process. Rather, it is a complex and interrelated set of cultural factors, personal interests, values and peer encounters.

7. Major givers: outcome hungry. Major giving differs from smaller giving, being more about investment than support.

8. Boards: major role but major disappointment. Donors look to boards but often perceive nonprofits as poorly led, unaccountable and ineffective. Fundraisers see boards as low in understanding of how to resource and support major giving.

9. Major investment yielding major results, but the context is anti-investment. Investing in major gift seeking capacity often generates high returns, respondents report. However, contextually, community understanding of investing in fundraising is low and anti-spending.

10. Major government role. As in other nations, what philanthropy injects in the Australian community is unique and quite distinct from government. Government’s role, respondents say, is structural – there to facilitate and encourage philanthropy through various levers.

11. Major fundraiser role. The very strong pattern from experienced fundraisers in highlighting passion and integrity as the heart of the role suggests an attitude more akin to philanthropy and philanthropists than many major givers perhaps realise.

To read the full article see: A Transformational Role – Donor and Charity Perspectives on Major Giving in Australia

Other articles in this issue

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