While reaction to poignant images related to a cause such as the Asian tsunami may create a surge of one-off donations, Tim Hardy & Mandy Lamkin argue that the response generated by connection with donors’ core values will more likely secure commitment to sustained, even predictable giving.

The personal values of donors – or their motivational principles – are fundamental to their giving habits, and utilising this in fundraising is more potent than relying on the emotional currency of a cause. Thus a charity hoping that donors and prospects will respond to its cause regardless of its relevance to their values is missing a key point – and possibly enormous potential in gaining support and building stronger donor relations.

The importance of values

In almost everything we do, moment-to-moment, day-to-day, we check in with our personal values to make decisions on all kinds of things. Often without knowing it we judge situations and concepts in terms of whether they meet our expectations for being ethical, economical, compassionate, just, trustworthy, and so on. In short, they create our authentic selves.

And it is no different – in fact it’s essential to the process – that when people consider donating, especially through an enduring commitment, they consciously or subconsciously employ personal values to make their decision.

Matching donor values with organisational values

So how do we find out about the values of our support base and if they match those being projected by our not-for-profit organisation? We do so by devising creative and relevant ways of asking them which will also reveal the direction that relationship-building or fundraising strategies might take.

By further inviting existing benefactors to articulate what is important to them about their philanthropic giving, not-for-profit organisations can make their cause a more relevant object for the engagement of a contributor’s values.

But why would asking donors or potential supporters about their motivations produce any real value for charities? It’s simple. People like to be asked what is important to them; it makes them feel appreciated and valued in their own right – not just for what they may be able to give.

Likewise, donors trust an organisation that’s clear about its own values, and openly and confidently asks people to share them. They appreciate the insight that inspires you to ask what might benefit them in a closer relationship with your organisation. All this strengthens mutual respect and creates a sense of alliance.

The power of organisational values

Before setting off, however, to consult supporters, organisations may find it useful to (re-) evaluate their own motivations. This is essential because, if we are to ask donors to respond to the foundational values of our cause, we must be clear on what we bring to the table.

Most charities, yes, have a mission or values statement already in place. The main point, however, is to recognise the power in launching these off the page and into flight, and how this is directly related to fundraising. The espousal of core values inspires and energises donors, it creates inclusiveness down the chain of command, and boosts morale in staff, clients and supporters.

Values-based giving fulfils donors’ needs

The significance and breadth of the personal-values approach to fundraising should not be underestimated. Individuals, groups or families seeking to give often use philanthropy to solve dilemmas around how they view their society or the world in general.

Hence, it’s true to say that charities can help donors fulfil their personal goals and assist generational elders pass on values along with wealth.

There’s also an opportunity for the not-for-profit sector to collaborate with other values-based services, including financial and philanthropy consultants, such as outlined in the following example.

Values-based giving in action

Ellen Gilmore was 52 when she inherited a large, unanticipated legacy and found a financial adviser to help her decide what was best to do with her ‘new’ money. As it turned out, this planner used a values-based approach to business and hence regularly suggests philanthropy to fulfil clients’ personal goals.

This adviser assessed Ellen’s situation in the usual way but, as part of the fact-find interview, also asked about her personal values and examined how these might affect placement of her wealth. As clarification of Ellen’s values (which included stability, empathy and optimism) also revealed a desire to make a major gift to a charity, the planner suggested calling in a philanthropy consultant to assist her in this process.

Working with the planner on suitable philanthropic vehicles (which attract tax advantage) for Ellen’s best financial interests, the consultant also took an in-depth interpersonal approach to ensure Ellen placed her money where it was most likely to provide the outcome she really wanted. The consultant also introduced Ellen to several charities which met her criteria for support.

After liaising with and considering the mission of these organisations, Ellen decided to establish a memorial sub-fund to the Quest for Life Foundation. She named the fund for her late mother and set in place directions for revenue from it to be used to help people, like her mother, deal with life-threatening illness.

Ellen says, “The whole experience was so valuable and interesting. For the first time in my life I have a vision for what’s important to me. I’m feeling very content with what I’ve done with my money.

“I’ve also changed my will so that some of my estate will go into the Foundation,” she added.

The main point from this example is the importance of a donor-values-based approach which enabled Ellen to identify life priorities and then use her money to satisfy these and provide sustained income for her preferred causes. Furthermore, Ellen was empowered by the process to add to her personal legacy, creating a responsibility and tradition for giving in her family into perpetuity.

None of this would have happened had she elected to just give away a lump sum or invest her money. And it’s an approach open to all donors, regardless of their level of wealth.

The sharing by benefactors in the values of your not-for-profit organisation will create a unique culture of partnership – not only with donors but also through strategic alliances with other service providers. While many advantages accompany such affiliations, not least of which is donor loyalty, there are also expectations that need to be addressed. But knowing how values – both yours and others – work to create a basis for productive understanding will potentially be very productive and satisfying for all.

Tim Hardy and Mandy Lamkin are directors of Enrich Australia Pty Ltd which provides values-based strategies, philanthropic consultancy and training to the not-for-profit and financial sectors. www.enrichaustralia.com

Suggested Reading and References

Smart & Caring: A Donor’s Guide to Major Gifting, Richard & Linda Livingston; RLD Publishing.
[Personal and financial considerations in developing gift giving criteria involving basic motivations and personal values]

The Philanthropic Initiative: www.tpi.org
[A non-profit philanthropic advisory service to help donors increase the impact of their philanthropy].

Gifts of Significance, James M. Hodge; Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University: www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/precourse_giftsofsignificancehodge.html
[Major gift models and how the value systems of donors overlap with the core values of the organisation].

Understanding Donor Dynamics, Editor Eugene R. Tempel; John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Relying on discernment of donor interests, values, and satisfaction will create a larger and more thoughtful philanthropic response.

Unlock the Secret of Your Support, Steve Barr:
www.charitytimes.com/pages/features/
[If you can identify an individual’s social values, then you stand a far greater chance of sending them messages “in their own language”].

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