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What Inspires Donors to Give Away Their Money

The act of philanthropy can take on a spiritual dimension, opening up the opportunity to engage your clients in more meaningful conversations.

By Greg Warner

This is an article about giving and philanthropy from the perspective of a major donor and an entrepreneur who developed software and services meant to make fundraisers more effective while reducing their fundraising costs.

Some of it might make complete sense, while other points could be hard to absorb. If your clients are like most, they’re probably working very hard to accumulate wealth, not give it away.

And as their advisor, you may have developed a “protectionist mentality” in order to ensure that your clients’ wealth lasts beyond their lifetimes and into the next generation, thereby prolonging your firm’s and your own financial interests. There is nothing wrong with that.

But many wealthy people reach a point when they aim to realize their full potential, and “actualize” the best version of themselves. This a period when, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow, your clients aspire to find meaning in their lives.

When I was 37, I first began pondering what I wanted to accomplish and how I might be remembered as I solicited assistance with my first will and irrevocable trust. For your clients, it might happen earlier or later. Everyone is different, but most of us will find it difficult to consider “self-actualization” until after our other basic needs are met, including safety, security, belonging and self-respect.

Your clients search for self-actualization will likely lead them to consider questions like:

  • What is my life story, what charities entwine with it, how can I give back and how can I make an impact by helping them?
  • Who would I like to honor or memorialize for helping me become who I am?
  • How can I live on after my lifetime and how do I want to be remembered by others?
  • How can I right wrongs in society or heal guilt in my soul?
  • How can I gain notoriety?
  • How can I fulfill my religious obligations?
  • And, of course, what tax benefits or perks can I get?

As they ask themselves these questions they will determine what makes them feel good. After all, everyone wants to be a hero in their own life story. No one wants to end up on their deathbed saying to themselves, “Boy, I was a real jerk.” Instead, they will want to say, “I feel good because I did good and I will be remembered fondly.”

That’s what inspires them to give their money away. They begin to realize that giving actually makes them happy and joyful. It produces a warm glow in their hearts, lifts them up, makes them feel alive, ignites their emotions, and even provides them with a sense of the spiritual. All that occurs thanks to the release of chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and in the reward centers of the brain. In fact, the more they give, the happier they become. Many studies prove that people who give (especially estates) live longer. Plus, giving also supports the practice of their religion and it brings them closer to others, arousing their sense of community.

It’s not rocket science. But it can pose a challenge for you since you’ve probably never thought of yourself as a guru or spiritual advisor. But prosperity and abundance must not only be measured in dollars and cents. For some advisors, that is what you will decide to become—assuming you aim to truly manage your clients’ wealth.

Consider who among your clients wants your involvement and guidance as they navigate their journey toward self-actualization. They will be open to the discussion and your help. 

And by doing so, you will put yourself in a position that most of your competition won’t explore and you will gain referrals that lead to meetings with your clients’ wealthy friends, who might be also be searching for meaning in their lives. You might even find meaning in your own life, too.


Greg Warner is CEO and founder of MarketSmart, a legacy and major gift-marketing software and services firm, as well as the author of the upcoming book, Engagement Fundraising: How to Raise More Money for Less in the 21st Century. Connect with Warner on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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