Lessons for Local Philanthropy: What We’ve Learned, Part III

  • Reach a broader audience for our giving tools to activate greater local giving through their networks
  • Learn from them about the barriers that made it difficult for partners to activate local giving among their clients
  • Gain insight to aid in designing more effective tools to bring more new local donors into the fold

While many donor-supporting organizations share our goal of accelerating giving, differing ideologies, agendas, and timelines often get in the way of collaboration.

Although many donor-supporting organizations and philanthropic intermediaries share a willingness to activate more giving, stewarding different archetypes of donors often means working with different timelines to impact. For example, we found that organizations working primarily with newer tech donors often had multi-year engagement plans with their members, and far less urgency around moving dollars directly into the community, due to the specific donor journey associated with wealth events. This made it harder for us to partner in effective ways to unlock donations in the short term, despite alignment with our mission and an openness for collaboration.

There is power in leveraging trust relationships that already exist between partners and their members, rather than seeking to build new relationships directly with prospects, even though this limits opportunities to control the message and build direct relationships.

We approached our work with partners as a way to reach a broader audience quickly, and get in front of more donors. While our initial goal was to interact directly with as many prospects as possible, we quickly realized that partnering with other organizations in this space would mean relying on them to carry our message across to their clients and members, whether that meant sharing an invitation to a donor briefing or asking the partner to send a specific resource to a client. Due to the privacy concerns that surround work with high-capacity individuals, as well as a scarcity mindset that pushes organizations to hold relationships with their members very tightly, we often found ourselves limited in our ability to track what happened after we made our requests or shared our resources.

While many philanthropic partners express interest in co-designing events and initiatives, execution capacity is often a barrier.

When we first started engaging with philanthropic partners, we believed many of them would want to co-design with us, as a prerequisite for agreeing to share resources with their members, whether that was putting together a donor briefing or a site visit, or designing a new giving tool.

Measuring impact means different things to different partners.

In our early pilots, we were struck by how different the metrics we wanted to track could be from those tracked by our partners. Where we brought a razor-sharp focus on moving money, many of our partners focused on more general measures of online engagement, such as email clicks, website visits, or interactions following an email with a given resource. In that sense, some pilots that we viewed as less successful (since they didn’t result in substantial donations) were actually perceived quite positively by our partners (since the donors engaged with the digital content).

Educating and engaging wealth advisors to support their clients on philanthropic giving — beyond setting up charitable vehicles — is a necessary, yet insufficient step to unlocking more resources.

As a sector, we often place unrealistic expectations on wealth advisors to proactively activate their clients’ giving, in terms of the quantity of dollars devoted to philanthropy, the speed of deployment, and the discernment they can foster about where to direct the dollars. In 2019, we commissioned a consultant who had deep experience as an institutional wealth advisor to high-net-worth clients to assess the potential to activate more giving through advisors. We discovered that while advisors absolutely hold a privileged position in their ability to nudge their clients toward more giving, they often reported that their conversations with clients focused more on how to give (“which vehicle”) or how much to give (“for tax purposes”) rather than who to give to (“which nonprofit or type of nonprofit”). In regard to the latter, many shared that clients turned to their friends and peers for specific giving recommendations or resources to inform their giving, rather than to their wealth advisors. Without advisors encouraging their clients to give or educating them more broadly about how to make a philanthropic impact with their funds, clients may never start devoting resources to philanthropy or develop “philanthropic muscle” and expertise. And without the final touch from a peer or a friend nudging them toward a specific opportunity (sharing a recommendation of a nonprofit to support, inviting them to a fundraising event, etc.), resources fail to move.

The promise of scale through corporate partners is usually elusive.

In the early days of Magnify, we believed working with the corporate sector would present an opportunity to scale our outreach efforts, particularly in either companies with a sizable group of highly affluent executives, or fast-growing startups close to an IPO event. However, we found large corporations to be more timid than we expected about the idea of promoting local giving, particularly for those with a global footprint, even when they were headquartered in Silicon Valley. As for startups, we realized that very few of their early employees relied on internal resources (peer groups, dedicated social impact leader or department, etc.) for advice on giving around a wealth event. It isn’t clear that it would occur to many to do so. Executives in companies big and small, young and established, were often reluctant to use their “personal” voice to influence others to give, whether that was to give locally or in any other way.

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