Don't hate the rich, warns fundraising coach

Stephen George tells the IoF's major donor fundraising conference that some fundraisers treat rich donors with thinly veiled contempt

Stephen George
Stephen George

Major donors should not be treated with "thinly veiled contempt" by fundraisers, and charities should recognise the positive impact philanthropists can bring to charitable causes, the fundraising and leadership coach Stephen George has told fundraisers.

Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising’s major donor fundraising conference in London yesterday, George said that a number of people in the charity sector "hate the rich" and it was up to the sector to "counter an insidious creeping towards not liking some rich people".

George said: "I have seen, interestingly, major donors interact with a fundraiser who has a thinly veiled contempt for having to deal with a rich person – and the donor can see it, and they don’t like it.

"What matters is that we see the person for who they are and help them deliver their dreams, because our dreams should be the same dreams – you want to make big change."

George also criticised charities that take a "moralistic view" of poverty and criticise capitalism while relying on capitalists to fund their work.

"We have seen some examples recently where some organisations have actually picked on, if you like, some aspects of capitalism," he said.

"If you want to raise money from capitalists, it might not be a particularly smart move to actually have a go at capitalism, which is generating the sort of money that is making the impact on our society that we are seeing."

Earlier this year, Oxfam published a report on inequality, called Reward Work, Not Wealth, that was criticised by some people, including the former charities minister Rob Wilson, for its critique of capitalism. But George did not mention Oxfam specifically.

He said it was the job of charities to help wealthy people get in contact with the causes they wanted to help and make the sort of impact on the world that they wanted to make.

He said it was "ludicrous" that people complained about the high salaries among some charity executives, which he said were far lower than in the private sector, and the sector needed to consider whether the traditional model of charity was getting in the way of philanthropy.

"We have to think about how we step change, shape-shift and game-change appeals and drives to change society," he said.

The philanthropist Sir Trevor Pears, executive chair of the Pears Foundation, told the conference that in recent years people had become much more understanding of why people wanted to give their wealth away, especially after the Giving Pledge was set up by Bill Gates in the US.

The Giving Pledge is a commitment by many of the world’s billionaires to leave the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.

But Pears also warned that some people were treating wealthy donors who wanted to give large sums to charity as if they were "up to something" or had something to hide, and said that people did not give to charity for tax reasons but to make change.

He said the risk was that potential philanthropists would feel it was easier not to give to charity, rather than donate large sums and leave themselves open to criticism.

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