How philanthropists really decide where to give

The natural place to start, as a fundraiser, is at your desk. You judiciously read every webpage, article and report about a potential funder’s strategy in search of the best fit between a donor and the work you are doing.

And then, research completed and grant application submitted, you’re surprised to figure out that the fit isn’t there after all. The pieces don’t snap together cleanly, your proposal has been turned down. Then what?

Perplexed, you may head back to your desk to do a little more research.

Please don’t, because the answer you’re looking for is not somewhere on the screen or hidden away in a Google cache.

Philanthropy – whether a $25 donation to an Indiegogo campaign or a multimillion dollar grant from a huge foundation – is always personal. The published philanthropy strategies you are researching are a sensible narrative that pulls together a bunch of threads, but they are not the whole truth. Far from it.

Think of it from the other side: there simply is no such thing as the best place to give a donation (heck, there’s no such thing as a best car) so there’s no analysis that gives the philanthropist the right answer no matter how much they spent trying to figure out the problem.

All the best philanthropists I know have a healthy dash of angel investor in them. Angels invest in people above all else, because they know that when you can find that rare combination of grit, belief, tenacity, vision, people skills, humility, audacity, courage, and, and, and….

You see, that’s the point.

The list is too long, the unicorn-like combination of attributes so rare, that it’s always, fundamentally, about someone’s belief in you.

(and, for those keeping track, ‘you’ is not just the founder or the CEO.  Not by a long shot).

6 thoughts on “How philanthropists really decide where to give

  1. Sounds a lot like hiring / applying for a job. A candidate my indeed demonstrate all the skills and experiences noted on the job posting and the interviews were engaging….but in the end it often comes down to “fit”. Great post Sasha!

  2. A great point. Strategy can give you hypotheses, but not a slam-dunk plan for how to secure a partner or donation (or investment). So what’s best after establishing a hypothesis? Confirm or refute it–that’s where those conversations/relationships can accomplish so much more (and often far more quickly) than even the best strategy. It’s about tapping into the inherent feedback loops of a conversation/relationship and then co-designing a solution. Thanks for the post.

  3. I agree Brian, and also about making a real connection. In my experience there’s no “objective” feedback because what you hear back is a function of the person’s take on you.

  4. Loved tour article re fund raising and Kathy LeMay and happen ro see Seth Goldins article aling the same lines. Xoxo

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