Fundraising Across The Big Pond

It has been an extraordinary privilege to host 120 interactive webinars since March 2020 for our nationwide learning community of professional and volunteer non-profit leaders. This has given me the pleasure of getting to know and work with some of the most respected, experienced and wisest experts in the fields of fundraising, advancement and other disciplines essential to non-profit empowerment and success.

Recently we hosted our first transatlantic webinar featuring Bernard Ross, Director, =mc consulting, Europe’s leading management and fundraising consultancy, as our subject matter expert to compare and contrast the art and science of fundraising in the US and UK. Bernard is an internationally recognized sage in strategic thinking, organizational change and behavioral science, and a prolific presenter, consultant, trainer, media guest and author of eight books. Reflecting the admiration he receives from other consultants, he was introduced by Jeff Jowdy (one of our previous webinar experts who wore a Bernard Ross Fan Club) as one of our industry’s genuine thought leaders. Ross generously squeezed our webinar into his busy schedule before jumping on a plane to travel from London to Toronto to speak to a standing room only audience (which is the norm) at the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) conference bringing together 3,000 practitioners.

He first highlighted the theme that philanthropy in the two nations share much more in common than what separates them. Equally as compelling, we all must do more to champion an improved quality of life, opportunity and social justice for all. The mechanics, motivation and innate goodness of people is very much alike. The voluntary sharing of time, talent and treasure practiced anywhere in the world reflects the high calling best captured by Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature.”

To provide context, the most profound differences are of scale. This makes perfect sense since the population of the US is nearly 5 times greater than the UK. This is visible in numerous quantitative measures:

  • Total annual giving in the US is $500 billion compared to approximately $15 billion in the UK. With his dry wit, Bernard pointed out that this is about the same amount that the British spend on cheese.
  • In a time when gift income is more and more influenced by larger gifts from fewer donors, mega gifts from billionaires are much more prevalent in the US. Some 88% of total gift income comes from just 12% of the donors.
  • The expansive non-profit landscape in the US includes more than 1.5 million non-profits compared to a modest 170,00 organizations in the UK.
  • Charitable giving has accounted for about 2% of the US GDP for decades, approximately twice the share in the UK.

As we dug deeper there were other significant differences. US philanthropy goes disproportionately to religious causes and education (about 40% in sum), whereas UK giving is more spread across a variety of causes. Much of this can be explained by America lacking an organized welfare structure equivalent to UK, providing fertile ground for social services philanthropy that the UK doesn’t have. By the way, animal welfare is rising to be a very popular British cause.

Bernard highlights that the science is virtually the same: Discovery, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of donor prospects. He points out that Americans are comfortable with a much more direct style of solicitation in face-to-face settings.

What influences philanthropy the most from country to country? The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy research team compiles the Global Philanthropy Environment Index (GPEI) exploring the philanthropic environment through six core factors: (1) ease of operating a philanthropic organization; (2) tax incentives; (3) cross-border philanthropic flows; (4) political environment; (5) economic environment; and (6) socio-cultural environment.

Ross has contributed enormously to position fundraisers to be more effective in crafting strategies, articulating cases for support, and understanding what works and doesn’t in asking for gifts of time, talent and treasure. Arguably, his greatest contribution to our profession is in the application of “decision science.” This brings us face-to-face with the reality that donors make difficult decisions based on both rational and irrational criteria.

Decision science plays a huge role in better understanding human behavior — why we eat what’s harmful, or buy a product we don’t need, or partner with the wrong person. It also explains why we help strangers in trouble, give blood, or make donations to causes we have no direct connection with. It mixes economics, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology to improve interactions with donors, supporters and friends for advancing social good. Ross forcibly concludes that decision science and the blending of rational and irrational decision-making is virtually universal. In other words, it’s the dominant force driving philanthropic decision-making in the US, UK and the rest of the world.

Jim Eskin’s consulting practice, Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his more than 250 fundraising workshops, webinars and podcasts and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure major gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription.  He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here.

Jim Eskin
Eskin Fundraising Training
10410 Pelican Oak Drive
San Antonio, TX 78254-6727
Cell: 210.415.3748

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