“I’m Not Rockefeller”: 33 High Net Worth Philanthropists Discuss Their Approach to Giving Edit Title

Over the past year, the Center for High Impact Philanthropy conducted a series of structured interviews to determine how high net worth individual philanthropists (defined by the Center as having the capacity to give $1 million per year) make decisions about giving. What we found were a set of diverse and evolving practices, a predominant reliance on peers for information, a narrow and negative view of evaluation (despite a strong desire to make a difference), and difficulty with exiting established relationships with nonprofits, perhaps because the transaction costs of “breaking up” seem
too high. To our surprise, we also found that nearly a third of the study participants do not think of themselves as “philanthropists,” despite giving an average of nearly $1 million annually. Intuitive solutions to addressing the informational
gaps identified in the interviews present unique problems for high net worth philanthropists. Many expressed a reluctance to investigate the effectiveness of potential recipients for fear of inviting unwanted solicitations or appearing distrustful or overly demanding of the nonprofits with which they already had relationships.

Most did not know about or refer to the myriad academic and nonprofit resources in their areas of interest. Given the limited information they used, philanthropic decisions can therefore be significant gambles. Entities like the Center that create resources and tools for philanthropists need new ways to synthesize, package and distribute information to increase the likelihood of its use in giving decisions.

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