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Major gift fundraisers and

philanthropists: Reframing a
crucial interaction
Voluntary Sector and Volunteering
Research Conference 2014
John Mc Loughllin, University of Kent, Centre for Philanthropy
A. Introduction
Aim and assumptions
The interaction between seekers and givers of philanthropic funds is a crucial one. It lies at the
heart of most philanthropy and much of civil society, encompassing the work of charities and
nonprofit organisations. While there is an enormous, literature on the drivers of charitable giving
and on donor motivation (surveyed by e.g. Sargeant & Woodliffe, 2007; Bekkers & Wiepking,
2011), there remains metaphorically the black box of what actually is happening in the
interactions between the fundraiser and the donor and what is the interplay of forces that both
parties bring We get some glimpses into the black box from the practice literature of
fundraising and from interviews with donors (e.g. Breeze and Lloyd, 2013). Current research by
Breeze on the formation of fundraisers in the UK and by the University of Strathclyde Business
School into entrepreneurial philanthropy promise to provide substantive, empirically based
contributions to understanding this interaction.
The aim of this paper is to open up discussion and to stimulate practitioners and academics into
rethinking and reframing this crucial relationship. The perspective is that of a practitioner,
experienced in fundraising and in advising fundraisers in the area of major gifts.
The working assumptions, to be explored elsewhere, are:
That in practice the interface of philanthropy and fundraising is a contested, negotiated
activity (a parallel to philanthropy as a theoretically contested concept, Daly, 2011). For
philanthropy to work at all, there needs to be a reasonably stable set of rules that to a large
extent are understood and followed by those seeking and those giving funds. Nevertheless
the rules and expectations have to be created and learned and they are constantly being
negotiated, sometimes rapidly, as a result of political or social tensions or economic
That philanthropy is best seen as a sub-category of the wider types of giving that underpin
and shape all social interaction (see e.g. Komter, 2005) and subject to the risks, ambiguities
and negotiation of power and affect that inform all social relationships.
Looking into the black box
So, how can we start to look into the black box? Broadly there are four potential sources of
information for this: (1) the enormous and burgeoning practice literature of fundraising in
handbooks, websites, blogs, articles in professional journals, and conference presentations; (2)
donors accounts of their own experience; (3) the practice literature of philanthropic advisers and
intermediaries; and (4) academic studies relevant to the interaction of donors and fundraisers.

Focusing on the first two of these categories, this paper:

i. considers and assesses how the practice literature of fundraising depicts the interaction
between fund-seekers and givers;
ii. then using as a starting point accounts by three very high-level philanthropists (Ted Turner,
Chuck Feeney and George Soros) it argues (a) that there is a mismatch between the
practice literature and the descriptions by these donors of their giving and (b) that the
mismatch probably applies more widely to lower level donors;
iii. concludes by setting out a preliminary framework for making sense of the interaction
between fund-seekers and givers.
B. How fundraisers depict the interaction with
In the practice literature of fundraising four main models have been used to describe the
interaction of fundraisers. Three of these are in fact extended metaphors: the cycle, the journey
and the pipeline. The fourth is what is variously called relationship or donor-centered
fundraising. The first three the metaphors predominate in the practice literature.
The cycle
In the practice literature a whole family of fundraising or donor cycles has grown up, drawn from
the cycles that were developed in the practice literature of sales and salesmanship of the early
twentieth century. These cycles identify the different stages and actions needed in the interaction
between the fundraiser/salesperson and the donor/buyer. Most fundraising cycles are derived
from the Cultivation Cycle of the Five Is, developed and promoted by G.T. Buck Smith a
leading American university fundraiser in the 1960s and 1970s.
The five Is are: Identification,
Interest, Involvement and Investment
Throughout the five stages of Buck Smiths cycle the frontline fundraiser (along with colleagues
such as researchers) is constantly active while the donor moves along a scale from absence,
through passive receptivity and onwards to be actively engaged and investing. The cycle is seen as
repeating itself as a donor is engaged to make further and larger gifts. (Figure 1)
In an influential article, David Dunlop, then Director of Capital Projects at the University of
Cornell, discussed and praised the Buck Smith cycle, recasting it in seven stages and renaming it as
the gentler sounding Nurturing Fundraising Cycle, aimed particularly at winning, the ultimate
gifts, the largest gifts of a donors lifetime (1993: 103-07). Dunlop replaced the bland stage of
Information with three stages, Awareness, Understanding and Caring. These highlight, by
implication, the donor actively moving from passive uninterested knowledge to active interest
that is first intellectual (Understanding) and then emotional (Caring).
Dunlop and his colleagues in Cornell developed the model of the Cycle and the Pipeline
which we will discuss next as a practical way to track their major gift work, to set targets and to
be accountable to the University. The original Buck Smith cycle and its reworking by Dunlop has

been very influential and is to be found still in the classifications used by many university
fundraising operations. (Figure 2.)
The pipeline
The metaphor that underpins the work of many major-gift offices is that of the pipeline.
large fundraising offices pipeline meetings are the crucial, regular way in which progress is
reviewed and chased. In practice the pipeline is a recasting of the Fundraising Cycle, often using
the same or similar stages to those set out by Buck Smith and David Dunlop. It is based on the
recognition that all success in fundraising requires sufficient prospective donors ('prospects') at
every stage of engagement. In a well-run pipeline, the operators - often specialist 'prospect
researchers' working closely with frontline fundraisers - ensure that sufficient prospects are
constantly being identified and placed in the first stage and that the fundraisers - like a salesforce
team - all have sufficiently large 'pools' of ' prospects' and that they are moving 'prospects'
efficiently through stages of engagement.
The donor journey
The journey is one of those fundamental metaphors by which we live, giving coherence, value
and direction to our activities (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003). Until recently the term donor journey'
has been barely visible in the research literature of fundraising and philanthropy. (But see Breeze,
2014.) It is, however, prominent in fundraising practice literature. The phrase has been used in
articles on donor attrition and retention (e.g. Nathan & Hallam, 2009). As with the term
supporter journey (Barker etal, 2011) it has come to increased prominence through its use in
leading fundraising software systems (e.g. Thomas & Collins, 2009).
The phrase the donor journey has spread into much mainstream training courses and into job
descriptions for fundraisers and is worth scrutinising and challenging. Fundraisers are
sometimes portrayed as assisting donors to make their journey, like helpful travel agents or
guides. So in the United Kingdom job advertisements contain phrases like donor journey, and
managing all aspects of the donor journey.

Rather than being about the independent autonomous journey of the donor, the donor journey
is sometimes depicted as being managed by the fundraiser, as in an advertisement seeking
candidate with: a deep understanding of relationship fundraising and of how to achieve potential
by managing [emphasis added] the donor journey.
Among consultants the donor is
occasionally depicted as an inanimate object as in the assertion that:
a trusted charity brand is one that is more likely to be able to push individuals along their own
donor journey once engaged [emphasis added].

The notion of pushing donors along their journey is a remarkable one. This feels very much the
donor journey as mapped by a hunter or tracker, someone looking at the donor from the
outside. It is a construct more likely to deter donors once they were aware of it.

For the most part the donor journey is not used by the fundraising community as a thought-
through metaphor explaining or predicting donor behaviour. Rather it provides a vivid image, a
graphic phrase that catches attention. This was well summed up by one of North Americas most
experienced fundraising consultants. When questioned about his seminar on the Donor Journey
he replied disarmingly, Its a good way of branding a great course.
Key features and limitations of fundraisers models
Experienced major-gift fundraisers whom I have interviewed generally refer to the cycle and
pipeline models as useful disciplines, more-or-less matching their experiences. They view these
schemes as not as mechanistic or prescriptive but as useful reminders to be systematic and
disciplined when seeking to raise significant funds from large pools of donors. They are means of
organising and prioritising interactions with potential donors. The metaphor of the donor
journey, in contrast, is rarely offered unprompted by experienced major gift fundraisers.
Five distorting characteristics recur in the practice literature: (1) the one-dimensional donor; (2)
the solitary fundraiser; (3) the unchanging organisation; (4) using donors, not partnering; and (5)
the donor as a passive object rather than an agent.
1. The one-dimensional donor
The donors relationship with the fundraising organisation is seen as a single thread, rather than
being one relationship, one activity among many that that the donor maintains, and very often a
small part of the donor's concerns. This points to a significant tactical weakness: a lack of curiosity
about the donor's needs and ambitions and about how these can be met by the fundraising
2. The solitary fundraiser
The models of interaction with donors, implicitly put the professional fundraiser at the very
centre with little sense that other people in the organisation play an important and frequently
essential role. There is little sense that their organisations are complex organisms with multiple
players and forces at work.
3. The unchanging organisation
Fundraisers' models of the interaction with donors depict an implausible world in which
fundraisers and their organisations appear to remain static and unchanging. Yet experienced
fundraisers observe that taking on major donors often changes the way in which organisations
work. Wary conservatives in an organisation are right in fearing that involvement with major
donors - if it is a new development - will alter the culture and working modes of the organisation.
For those who give substantial gifts will usually also wish to have their views heard and - coming
from different work backgrounds - they will bring new perspectives that challenge current
assumptions within the organisation.

4. Using donors, not partnering
Fundraisers' accounts of the interaction with donors have until recently been largely
instrumentalist - how to move and use the donor to advance the organisation's goals rather than
how to work in partnership to articulate and achieve shared goals. In practice enterprising non-
profit organisations and fund-seekers across the world seek to drop the instrumentalist model.
The new generation of very large-scale philanthropists such as Ted Turner, Bill and Melinda
Gates, Pierre Omidyar and most, crucially, those other donors whom they influence and inspire -
put partnership at the centre of their thinking and strategies.
In describing their work fundraisers and those who train them, use language that ranges widely
from the instrumentalist to that of partnership. At the instrumentalist end, most frequent in
training courses offering to enable fundraisers to bag large amounts, the language is at time
predatory, manipulative and combative. The donor is being hunted, tracked, captured.
5. The donor as a passive object rather than an agent
The donor is still too frequently depicted as a passive 'object' rather than 'agent' - an object that is
pushed through different stages of 'moves management' or even 'donor management'. The
latter phrase is one that, surprisingly, is heard in discussion among fundraisers, a phrase hinting at
a startling lack of imagination and empathy with the donor and her or his aspirations.
Despite the frequent recognition, sometimes explicit, more often tacit, that donors can push
back and that they have values and interests that need to be acknowledged, fundraisers still
create and disseminate a severely limited picture of what drives donors and what shapes the
interaction between donors and fundraisers.
C. Donor perspectives: Experiment, trial and
error, frustration
Donors and fundraisers occupy the same landscape yet they carry utterly different maps.
Fundraisers' maps are full of routes to donors and potential donors. In contrast, donors, would-be
donors and their advisers use maps in which fundraisers are largely non-existent. This is certainly
true of large-scale donors, who are more likely than lower-level donors to write or speak publicly
about their experiences and aspirations. We suspect, though, that it is true of donors at all levels.
In this section we are going to look at the experiences of just three prominent philanthropists -
Ted Turner, Chuck Feeney and George Soros. Because they are unlike most funders in terms of
their enormous wealth and the scale of their giving, we cannot necessarily extrapolate from their
experiences to those of funders at other levels (casual, regular, major). Nevertheless their
accounts provide a counter-narrative to the depictions of fundraisers and to the academic

accounts of donor motivation. My hunch, based on talking to donors and fundraisers over the
years, is that comparative studies with donors at all levels will show something similar.
So let us look at these three. Ted Turners billion-dollar commitment which transformed the
philanthropic landscape in 1998 was made after, and informed by, his earlier philanthropic
efforts: the Better World Society (established in 1985 and dissolved in 1991) and the Turner
Foundation (1990) (Turner, 2008: 212 214, 343 345). Turner worked hard, reflecting on and
consciously learning from his experiences. Recalling the Better World Initiative, he speaks of the
frustration, stimulation and sheer hard work of being philanthropist and fundraiser:
While this fund-raising was frustrating, the intellectual stimulation we received from the
board was tremendous and this experience had a profound effect on me. Having spent
my career using war analogies to develop business strategies and with military leaders as
my heroes, I began to think about people who made peace their lifes objective.(213)
I remember gritting my teeth and thinking to myself that the next time I did something
like this, Ill have made enough of my own money that I wont have to be a fund-raiser.
Turners search for the right causes and vehicles were a decades-long process. It was also one
that changed the assumptions that informed his life:
My father had raised me with a my country right or wrong mentality. But as I thought
through issues with more of an open mind, I began to question assumptions that I took for
granted when I was growing up. (214)
Turner describes his route to philanthropy as being influenced by many individuals, his friend and
partner J.J. Ebaugh, exposure to world leaders and politicians with outlooks and experiences very
different to his, and a chance meeting at a dinner with a wealthy individual who enthused about
the benefits and the pleasure of the family foundation established by his father (Turner, 2008:
211212, 343345).
Chuck Feeney, who allocated almost all of his wealth to setting up the Atlantic Foundation and
Atlantic Philanthropies, due to spend down all its resources by 2020, has always been more
guarded than most philanthropists in talking about his motivations and goals. One of his few
comments on the subject points to an existential shock, a loss of purpose and meaning that led to
an obsessive, competitive pursuit of philanthropy. Recalling the sale of his company, DFS (Duty
Free Shoppers) in 1996 he said:
The world changed when we sold DFS. Our coffers were full from the $1.6 billion transaction. I
sort of felt we could do more good taking that money and putting it into things, but the
challenge was, where do you put it?(OClery, 2007: 244 245).
Conor OClery in his vivid biography (The Billionaire Who Wasnt) encapsulates Feeneys
philanthropy as opportunistic, intense and instinctive:

His philanthropy was opportunistic, but he didnt give randomly. He investigated and scrutinised,
and sometimes tested the people involved with small initial grants. And it always came down to
his instincts about the quality of the people involved. (OClery, 2007: 245).
The highly cerebral financier George Soros depicts his own philanthropic enterprise as beginning
with a sudden jolt one day in London. Rushing around the city and under enormous strain to
raise millions of dollars by the end of the day to cover one his trading positions, he thought he
was about to have a heart attack. At that moment, he says, he decided to do something
worthwhile with my life. (Soros: loc 130 140). As Soros tells it, he had three overwhelming
aims: to open up closed societies, to strengthen open societies and to promote a critical mode
of thinking (Soros: loc 143). Like many of the new generation of philanthropists, he was driven
by a determination to make large-scale systemic change. Despite that strategic clarity much of
what followed was a headlong rush, backing projects in a reactive and ad hoc way, growing
expenditure very rapidly, one hundred-fold over a few years (Soros: loc 304). Soros says he had
to learn philanthropy. He did so by undertaking what he what he called an apprenticeship at the
human rights organisation, Helsinki Watch, and by going on fact-finding tours to El Salvador,
Nicaragua and Russia (Soros: loc143 155). A recurrent theme in Soros book, My Philanthropy
is that of learning from mistakes (Soros: loc 239, 341, 470). One of the main lessons he
discovered was that those in country understood much more than he or a centralised
organisation, what was needed and what would work (Soros: loc. 239).
Experiment, trial and error, frustration a readiness to learn from their experiences and to rethink
strategy ambitiously characterises experience of todays largest donors. The approaches of these
individuals (vividly told in Bishop and Green, 2008) are highly individualistic, nearly always
informed by immense confidence, even certainty, and sometimes drawing on 'insight', instinct
and hunches, as much as the 'language of business' which they have all espoused. This is
emphatically a world in which little is seen of fundraisers or their constructions of how fundraising
and philanthropy occur.

D. Re-thinking the interaction of fund-seekers
and givers
So, how might we start to reframe the interaction in a way that is accurate and also useful to the
parties involved- the fundraising organisations and the donors? The practice literature largely
provides guides to managing the relationship rather than throwing light what is actually
happening. (But see Burk, 2003). The academic literature relevant to the interaction of donors
and fundraisers, covering a vast number of disciplines, with different and possibly incompatible
accounts (Halfpenny, 1999), provides no integrated, authoritative narrative of the interaction
between givers and fund-seekers.
There are broadly three well-known frames that provide most of the academic discussion
relevant to this interaction:
1. The motivations and behaviours of funders, often dividing donors into categories

2. The characteristics of fund-seeking organisations, focusing on the fund-seeking
organisation itself rather than the individual fund-seekers and givers this opens up a
potentially promising approach.

3. Psychological factors, focusing on psychological factors, expectations and calculations (e.g.
Sargeant & Shang, 2012).
A much wider frame is, I suggest, needed, for there are complexly interacting forces, at different
levels, at play when fund-seekers and givers interact. (See Figure 3. ) A useful starting point was
provided by Cook & Lasher in 1996, in their study, based on interviews with 50 US university
presidents engaged in fundraising:
fund raising should be thought of and studied more as a team effort than as the
responsibility of any one person or position. Similarly, fund raising should be thought of
and studied as a dynamic process rather than as a set of rigid rules or a series of static
steps. The subtlety and complexity inherent in the fund-raising process can only be fully
appreciated as a dynamic group activity involving a number of interpersonal relationships,
role transactions, and social exchanges.
Taking this as a starting point, I suggest, drawing on experience and professional observation, that
there are four elements critical to shaping an account of what happens in the interaction
between fund-seekers and fund-givers:
4. The pursuit of advantage, meaning and pleasure;
5. The collaborative and contested nature of the interaction;
6. Fundraisers as connectors;
7. Improvisation as the heart of the interaction.
Advantage, meaning and pleasure

Any account of funder behaviour needs to be grounded on the reality that funders, like
individuals in almost every social interaction, are seeking to maximise advantage, meaning and
pleasure. The more these three overlap the stronger their effect. Advantage comes in many
types including material, symbolic, political and psychological (Bourdieu 2000; see critique in
Sanghera, 2011). Meaning is the moral, justifying account that one provides to oneself and to
others of ones own status, actions and inherent value. Pleasure, like emotions, is one the aspects
of giving and receiving, that is still at the margins of fundraising and philanthropic discussion.
Experienced major gift fundraisers tend to emphasise the importance of meaning rather than
advantage in their accounts of donor behaviour. So they attach great importance to the donors
desire to accomplish something fulfilling, worthwhile and good as a stronger motivator than tax
advantages. Yet meaning and advantage do often overlap, when the advantage concerns status,
construed status and membership of a restricted, elite group. Ostrower (1995) showed that
major gift philanthropy legitimises members of an elite to other classes and to peers, giving them
psychological advantages and making them feel comfortable in their wealth (13, 14). She also
found that the pursuit of advantage, meaning and pleasure coincide (13-14). As well as belonging
to an inner group, donors also want their generous actions to be recognised as moral. Ostrower
picks up Max Webers acute observation that Good fortune wants to be legitimate
fortune.(1995:14; Weber, 1915/2009: 271).
Many major gift donors speak of pleasure when explaining why they continue to give (Breeze &
Lloyd, 2013: 91, 100-1) From my own experience and from interviews with major-gift
fundraisers, I know how eloquently donors can speak of the delight of giving. A leading donor to
one UK university passionately urges other wealthy individuals to give for pleasure, saying: It was
a lot more fun, giving money, than getting it.
The skilled fundraiser is one who enables the potential donor to derive the greatest meaning,
pleasure and advantage from the transaction for that is what it is of giving away or consuming
resources of time, money, emotional energy and status for no ostensible return.
The pursuit of advantage meaning and pleasure applies, too, to the fundraiser, though in a
different way. To succeed in winning over the potential donor at a major gift level, the fundraiser
will perform best if she or he truly believes (or has convinced themselves) that the cause and the
gift are worthwhile, desirable, even noble actions. And yet at the same time the fundraiser will
inescapably be pursuing their own advantage to meet the work targets set by their
organisation. No matter how sophisticated and blended these targets may be (incorporating for
instance the number and quality of new relationship and cultivation moves) the underlying
compelling target has to be maximising resources.
Collaboration and contest
Successful fund-seeking and giving is collaborative the request and the gift are predicated on a
shared purpose that is larger and more important than the actors. And yet there is inescapably an
element of instrumentality, the pursuit of an outcome in the actions of the fundraiser. For the

fundraisers conversations and relationships are pursued with a purpose. The fund-seeker can
never fully be the trusted adviser or unambiguous friend.
At its core the art of the fund-seeker is to operate and succeed with this fundamental
ambivalence, indeed tension, in their role - as purposeful seeker and as collaborator.
Complexity: Fundraisers as connectors
Fund-seekers are connectors, not only with those from they seek funds but, crucially, with
colleagues and stakeholders within the organisation to which they belong. Even before they
enter the seeker-giver interaction, fundraisers are influenced by strong organisational factors:
how well they understand and are aligned with the motivations, needs and expectations of the
executive leadership, the operating core those delivering the services such as programme
leaders in a charity, academics, curators, medical and nursing staff in a hospital (Mintzberg, 1983),
and stakeholders such as trustees. They play a highly connective role, bridging disparate groups,
seeking to understand, take cognisance of, and negotiate their different viewpoints (as in Cook
& Lasher, 1996).
Improvisation and the arts of philanthropy
At the heart of philanthropy are the triple arts of philanthropy: giving, asking and receiving (by
intermediaries and beneficiaries). They are developed from experience, action, and reflection by
individuals, singly or with others, trying things out, learning as they go and seeking to improve
future action. Knowing not just ones own art but seeking to understand and imagine the other
viewpoints, is messy, improvised and essential to improving the value of the interaction between
fund-seekers and givers.

Figure 1: The Five Is Cultivation Cycle G.T. Buck Smith
(Dunlop, 1993: 103)

Figure 2: The Nurturing Fund-raising Cycle
Dunlop, 1993: 104

Figure 3
The interplay of forces: What do fund-seekers and givers bring
when they interact?
Provisional list
The frontline interaction
Who initiated the interaction? Fund-seeker or giver?
Who are at the frontline in negotiating on each side?
One or several?
On the fund-seeking side:
internal specialists?
external specialists?
donor volunteers?
core workers?
On the fund-giver side:
The lead giver and owner of the money to be given?
Internal specialists?
External specialists?
The autonomy and power to close held by the frontline negotiators?
The actors
How experienced in giving/seeking?
Expectations based on past giving?
What presuppositions do they bring about wealth, giving and how charitable organisations
should operate?
Are the presuppositions aligned or do they have to be contested?
Clarity of goals?
For the frontline fundraisers:

Technical knowledge?
Persuasive and perfomative abilities?
Knowledge of their organisation or cause?
Environments (settings within which the frontline actors operate)
For the frontline fundraiser:
Is fundraising urgent, critical to the organisation?
Does the leadership see fundraising as strategic?
What choice in practice does the organisation make in choosing between quick, immediate
income versus building a longer-term relationship and repeated giving by the donor?
Does leadership invest time, resources and its own credibility in fundraising?
What is the status of the frontline fundraiser within their organisation?
What is the status of fundraising within the organisation?
For the fund-giver:
Obligations to family?
Expectations on wealth and giving of family, community, friends and trusted advisers?

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Gerth and C. Wright Mills, Routledge: 267-301.

i accessed 21/07/14
At the time of writing (March 2013) a Google search found c.250,000 occurrences for prospect pipeline + fundraising; 14,300
"prospect pipeline + philanthropy. In contrast: "donor journey + fundraising occurred 2,480 times and supporter journey +
fundraising, 2,270.
Accessed 22/07/14
A full elaboration of the fundraiser as travel agent is provided by Elischer (2013).
iv , accessed 05/02/2012)
v, accessed 12/03/2014.
This tradition divides doors into categories according to data collected from interviews or from the analysis of secondary data. Some
of this research has been adapted into fundraiser-friendly guidance (especially Prince & File, 1994). Leading examples include: Jerold
Panas (1984), Mega Gifts, 20 individuals; 22 motivating factors; Teresa Odendahl (1990), Charity begins at home: Generosity and Self-
Interest among the Philanthropic Elite, 140 individuals, 4 charitable categories; Rus A. Prince and Karen M. File (1994), The Seven Faces
of Philanthropy; 218 individual donors, seven categories of motivation; Beth Breeze (2008), The problem of riches: Is philanthropy a
solution or part of the problem?; based on published sources; seven categories of motivation.
Collins, 2006; Crutchfield & McLeod Grant, 2008; Crutchfield, Kania & Kramer, 2011