A recent survey of the affluent suggests that uncertainty about ways to donate and how their money will be used are major constraints to giving. This opens up abundant possibilities for fundraisers who state their case clearly and openly. Wendy Scaife and Kym Madden report.

Well-off Australians lack awareness of philanthropy and their options for giving, new research from the Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies shows.

With the rich tending to be intensely private and research-averse, the key results recently released by CPNS offer landmark information to fundraisers.

Twenty in-depth interviews with prosperous individuals, couples and families were conducted to canvass attitudes to their giving behaviour. The investment asset base of interviewees was at least $5 million and often more.

The key findings are outlined below.

“I’m Not a Philanthropist”

While most saw themselves as generous, many stressed they were not “especially generous” or “a philanthropist.” Usually, annual donations varied from several hundred dollars to thousands. Few reported giving at or above the average tax deductible donation ($47,245) for taxpayers earning more than $1 million a year.

In Vivo Giving

Few had included a charitable bequest in their will. While many reported low current levels of giving, they expected – and looked forward – to giving larger amounts as they retired, when debt was no longer a part of their lives. Giving during their lifetime was favoured because it allowed involvement and the capacity to see change. Monitoring contribution outcomes, and tax relief, was important.

“You Have a Responsibility to Give”

The majority agreed that community giving was a moral responsibility for people with wealth. However, not all saw themselves as wealthy, with a preference for seeing themselves as ‘comfortable’.

“There Never Seems Enough to Go Around”

Four key factors appear to act as constraints to giving:

Looking after family first: an overriding priority for respondents Uncertainty about how to give effectively Perceiving they do not have enough to give to make a difference Little time now to give properly, so putting it off until later Low Awareness of Giving Mechanisms

A small number had set up a prescribed private fund (PPF), but most reported no idea of the various alternatives for giving that were open to them. Interest was strong in learning more about giving mechanisms, provided this information was educational and not high pressure.

Giving was considered a very personal decision and a private matter. It was something that many of the study’s participants wanted to investigate so they could do it well. While expressing fear of pressure, most liked the concept of more structured – focused – philanthropy, if this did not add bureaucracy and administration to the charity sector.

Limited Charity Experience Leads to Major Concerns

Some respondents reported major board, committee or other volunteer roles. Others had little charitable involvement. A few gave regularly through their businesses, predominantly to mainstream charities. Almost all articulated strong concerns about charity effectiveness, transparency, administration costs, executive salaries and accountability. Particular anxiety surrounded giving to international needs, despite travel exposing respondents to real issues firsthand.

Widespread unease worked against the idea of giving a major gift, as summed up in the following quotes.

“[Charity activity is]… shrouded in mystery. If I were to give $10,000 or $20,000 I would need to know it goes straight through to the keeper,” and “The rubber’s not hitting the road.”

Participants spoke of long hours and risks of amassing their wealth, resulting in unwillingness to give larger donations without knowing how well these might be applied. However, some were open to greater charity involvement when they had more time and would want high engagement to contribute both talents and input into what their cheque and time might achieve.

Respondents raised major concerns about being inundated with requests from giving more visibly to charities as illustrated by this comment. “Before you know it, it’s like Time Magazine and they’ll send you something different every week.”

Impact of Volunteering

Time poor, many respondents were unsure about volunteering. Others reported their spouses were more likely to volunteer. In this case, where spouses volunteered influenced placement of annual donations – especially school and church involvements. Sample quote: “We do not, at this stage of our life, give our time, as we have enough trouble finding time to do the things we want.”

Getting the Family Involved

Participants were interested in sharing strong values with their children and grandchildren through a giving vehicle and/or philosophy. Sample quote: “I would make it a family thing and involve them.”

Huge Potential Exists

Significantly, the study confirmed a growing interest in philanthropy among the wealthy, however, the conversation must often be initiated before people will consider taking action to structure and plan their giving. More information is a primary need and the challenge for nonprofits is to find ways to place this option before people of means.

Wendy Scaife and Kym Madden are senior research fellows at the Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies.

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