Major Gifts – a very recent study

Wendy Scaife, Katie McDonald and Susan Smyllie have written a new report for QUT, the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies entitled: Major Gifts – A Transformational Role Donor and Charity Perspectives on Major Giving in Australia.

Thanks to John Garran for forwarding me a copy – see the full report here.

The report is interesting because it surveys both donors (50 of them) and fundraisers “giving a public voice to the perceptions, attitudes, concerns and stories of Australians who have chosen to act philanthropically in a sizeable and ongoing way” and extends the research on high net worth donors and “deliberate givers” who make major gifts ie those of at least AU$10,000.

The study has come up with 11 key messages:
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 answers are forthcoming except 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 to 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.

The report also identifies that “heartening evidence exists that donors who are ‘planner givers’ donate on average four times more than others and that “the new millennium practice of regular month by month giving is changing the behaviour and thinking of the ‘person-in-the-street’ giver but at the higher income level few comparable practices are in place.

A key element of major gifts was found to be that “perhaps what distinguished major gifts most from other types of gifts was the concept of investment. Specifically the point at which the gift is large enough that it becomes an investment in the organisation and the community. Major gifts were seen as a highly valuable form of community funding, especially for the many organisations not funded or well-funded by government. This sentiment resonated with both fundraisers and donors”.

For me the interesting part of this study is where it uncovered donor characteristics such as family, history and culture, perceptions of wealth, personal value systems and what donors and fundraisers consider to be necessary characteristics of fundraisers including passion for the cause and integrity.

Interspersed with quotes, the report also looks at the factors influencing donor decision making, ranging from hearing from someone notable and importantly, having the right person ask for a gift. Governance and professionalism is also seen as very important.

What do you think about major gifts and the currently accepted norm of $10,000 as a definition for major giving? Do you feel that major gifts transform the giver as well as the recipient? What do you think it says about the real state of giving in Australia if only 50 major donors could be identified (or wanted to participate)?

I look forward to your thoughts.

About ozphilanthropy

#Philanthropy. #arts Posts by Sharon Nathani, PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne focussing on philanthropic funders of the arts. Sharon's study is supported through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
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2 Responses to Major Gifts – a very recent study

  1. Wendy Scaife says:

    Hi Sharon
    Thanks for highlighting the research – great to see messages multiplied. Just to clarify, there’s lots more major givers out there but studies have to have limits else they’d never be finished. We appreciated that the Perpetual, Gluyas and Corbould Trusts funded ACPNS to talk to this many people. We are just finishing off our foundation study though and if there’s anyone with a Private Ancillary Fund out there who’d like to be interviewed as we draw to a close on that one, I’d love to hear from you soon and I can give you more details – Thanks again Sharon. Wendy Scaife QUT

    • Hi Wendy,
      thanks for clarifying about the scale of the research. There has certainly been a lot of interest in the report.
      I hope that people reading this connected with PAFs do get in touch with you – and I will be happy to spread the word on your foundation study.


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