Philanthropy is the space in which the nonprofit and business worlds are often forced to find common ground. Yet, it doesn’t always work out that way – mostly because of very different expectations. The philanthropist who wants to use his resources to change the world is confronted by the nonprofit organization that just needs enough money to make payroll this month. The result is mutual disappointment. Out of compassion the philanthropist provides some support but remains unsatisfied. The organization gets less than it was looking for and leaves frustrated and still in need.
Our aim in conducting our research and writing this book was to enhance the enterprise of philanthropy by making those points of connection more productive. In particular, it occurred to us that if fundraisers and those who are engaged in the nonprofit world had a better understanding of the true interests and attitudes of philanthropists, they could be more selective and more focused in their approaches. We wanted to bring depth to the often one-dimensional view of the philanthropist as simply the source of much needed funds. So many times we have heard nonprofit professionals say, “If only Mr. X would write us a cheque, our problems would be solved.”
We sought to find out more about that infamous Mr. X. What are his passions, motivations, defining experiences, likes, dislikes, joys and challenges? It was obvious to us that the best source of information about philanthropists was, in fact, philanthropists themselves. To that end we conducted in-depth interviews with over 40 of Canada’s top philanthropists. While each interview was unique, we discovered three universal truths. First, each of the men and women we spoke with want to use their wealth to achieve a purpose higher than simply the accumulation of more wealth. That alone sets them apart. Second, givers want to give. Philanthropists want to be solicited – albeit with opportunities that match their interests. Finally we discovered that these people are passionate and thoughtful about philanthropy and took advantage of the rare opportunity to be frank in a setting where there is no money on the table.
Our interviews were comprehensive in most cases lasting more than 90 minutes. We asked all the questions we could think of without crossing the boundaries of appropriateness. We covered motivations, approaches, solicitations, expectations, relationships, decision-making, family and the next generation. Some of what we heard was astounding – even with our combined three decades of experience. We left most of our interviews trying desperately to debrief and process the sheer volume of what we had just heard. More than anything we were almost always inspired.
We hope that our findings will help fundraising professionals gain a much deeper understanding of the philanthropist. In addition, our interviews may provide the criteria for major gifts research that goes beyond giving history and an approximation of resources. We expect that the laypeople who devote their time to nonprofit organizations will likewise find value in knowing more about top givers. Likewise, we hope that those who are just starting on a path of philanthropic involvement will find the experiences and insights of these philanthropists to be instructive and motivational. Many of our interviewees are accomplished and well known Canadians. We believe that their stories and insights have the potential to be intriguing, interesting and inspirational to anyone in any walk of life who simply seeks to somehow make a difference.