Redefining the Notion of Philanthropy

Why limiting who can be a “philanthropist” hurts us all.

By Ed Sluga, First published by Hilborn Charity eNews

My colleague, Peggy Killeen, often talks about planned giving as a way of “democratizing philanthropy.” My understanding of this idea is that by including a planned gift in their estate, an individual can make a larger gift— a major gift in essence—to a charity of their choice that they (perhaps) would not be able to manage in life. They can become a philanthropist

This is a redefining of what we mean by philanthropy. It expands the notion of philanthropic intent and allows that even those without the means to provide a significant gift in life, still have the desire—and the means, to make such a contribution. Becoming a philanthropist becomes attainable by a larger part of Canadian society. It also can demystify the idea of philanthropy itself.

Currently, philanthropy is often considered to be larger gifts made by people of high-net-worth to a charity in life—often within the structure of a campaign. What we know is that the vast majority of donors to Canadian charities would be unable (or would see themselves as unable) to provide a gift of this kind. This has left the idea of “philanthropy,” as something only available to an incredibly small group of high-net-worth individuals and families. For many organizations, this makes up less than 1% of their supporter base.

But what if we also included larger gifts that fall within a person’s estate as philanthropy?

It is amazing how many organizations don’t treat these gifts in the same manner as major gifts. In fact, many larger gifts made in life to an organization are considered philanthropic in nature, while a gift in an estate is still too often considered a “surprise.” No matter how large the gift, charities think of estate gifts differently. Consider the resources allocated to major gifts versus those allocated to planned gifts as proof. Charities, seen as leaders in the field, often do little to no planned giving engagement of their donors. Unfortunately, this is the rule, not the exception, in the charitable sector.

Now is the time to change our perspective on estate gifts, and begin to view them through the lens of major gifts.  

Diversifying “philanthropy” through planned giving creates an opportunity to expand your donor base to include segments that would normally be excluded from consideration as potential philanthropists under current thinking. For example, middle class donors, donors from new immigrant communities or people of indigenous backgrounds may be recognized as important donors and supporters to a cause, but excluded as prospective donors to major gift campaigns.

It is extraordinary how many organizations exclude planned giving targets and planned giving conversations from their campaigns. This is especially troubling in today’s reality that wealth is primarily held in assets. Asset giving is, by definition, planned giving so why don’t organizations include planned gift targets in their campaigns? Are they uncertain how to include these segments of supporters in the idea of philanthropy? Are they focused only on the short term and have left the long-term needs of the charity to others? Or, are they simply unable to change a way of thinking even if it would expand their ability to achieve their goals? Questions as to the “why” are plentiful.

When you diversify philanthropy through planned giving, you accept that significant support can be pledged to your charity that will be received in either the next 1-5 years (a typical major gift pledge to a capital campaign) or pledged in the next 10-15 years (a typical planned giving pledge timeline). You also accept that this will allow more individuals in your donor base to consider and create a gift. This can only be a positive. And, it only takes a simple reframing of the power of planned giving to expand your base of philanthropy and include a new and diverse group of philanthropists.

Want to move from the “why” to the “how” in broadening your own organization’s definition of philanthropy? Whether that be from metrics necessary to fairly include planned gifts as part of a capital campaign to materials that help donors step into their philanthropic role, the team at PGgrowth can help. Reach out to us and we’d be happy to discuss further.

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