Philanthropy and diversity: identifying the triggers for giving

publication date: May 28, 2011
author/source: Lisa MacDonald
What do a 27-year-old Nigerian real-estate star, a middle-aged South Asian entrepreneur and a straight-talkin', newly divorced Jewish mother have in common? More than you'd think. Isaac Olowolof, Aditja Jha and Ruth Mandel are all committed philanthropists, loyal and generous to the causes they've chosen to support. They believe in contributing to their community and in the importance of leading by example - for their children and the next generation of donors.

They shared their experiences during a donor panel discussion at Diversity and the Spirit of Giving, the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners held in Toronto in April.

Why diversity matters

Not that we need reminders about the need to address diversity among donors, but here are some anyway. In 2007, Canadian women made more charitable contributions than men. Over the next few years, it is predicted that 60% of wealth in Canada and the U.S. will be controlled by women.

In that same year, first generation immigrants made 20% of all donations to Canadian charities. Also notable is the fact that at least 40% of immigrants living in Canada since 2000 have continued to make significant, annual charitable gifts to their home country.

Multiple meanings of diversity

In this discussion, diversity is being considered in its largest sense, encompassing all those factors that make a person unique. Gender, ethnicity, age, education, culture, being a parent, and marital status are all examples of things that influence an individual's propensity to give.

For Issac Olowolof, diversity in philanthropy is about equality of opportunity, information and resources. He says, "To believe in giving, we have to first feel that we're equal. Then we'll start giving outside our community. The more equality there is, the more diversity won't even be an issue."

Ruth Mandel makes it even more personal.  For her, diversity can also mean the difference of identities in a single donor - "[There is a] lack of divide between me and the recipients." She's seen that from both sides: some time after donating to a woman's shelter, she found herself in need of its services.

Why they give

The who, what, where and why of giving for this panel reveals fewer differences than similarities. Passion for a cause, making an impact and a strong belief in the value of philanthropy are core giving principles for these donors. In that, they're no different than the "typical" group of donors you may target or steward.

As a seasoned donor and a strong advocate for social change, Aditja has a giving agenda. He supports charities that build on his beliefs and life experience. Isaac values two forms of giving - money and self. He wants to lead by example in his philanthropy, as he was taught by his parents. Ruth is passionate in her approach, looking for immediate impact in smaller organizations.

Appeal to your donor's differences ... and similarities

The advice for fundraisers from this donor panel is simple. Consider your approach. To find success in fundraising among a diverse audience, a cookie-cutter methodology isn't going to work. Be in tune with your prospects and be creative about their involvement.

If you are trying to engage a new donor group, perhaps the first step is to inspire one individual to help you gain access to others in the community. To do that, you'll need to be professional and well-informed about the group you are approaching. As pointed out in part one of this article, (CF&P May 15), sensitivity to cultural beliefs and attitudes is the starting point for success.

There are triggers for giving in all donors, no matter what their background may be. The key to understanding those motives lies in each individual's unique experience in upbringing, ethnic background, socio-economic status, and generational demographic. Or, in a word, their diversity.

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