Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Give and Take in Major Gift Relationships

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Give and Take in Major Gift Relationships

Article excerpt

Introduction

A plurality of funding sources operate within the Australian nonprofit (NP) sector and this article investigates one of the lesser explored areas: the complex phenomenon of major gift giving to charitable bodies. In particular, better understanding of donor expectations and (dis)satisfaction is sought. Currently, little is known about Australian major donors' expectations or their views on the partnership created by their funding of a non-profit organisation's (NPOs) activities. Yet, in the face of ever increasing demands and competition, more organisations may need to look beyond their traditional funding sources. This article draws on empirical evidence from interviews with 16 Australian major donors, defined as those who gave at least a single gift of at least AU$10,000 in 2008 or 2009, to identify what constitutes from their perspective a good or bad major gift relationship. The insights gleaned from this research have implications for how major gift relationships are understood and practised. Equity theory, with the concept of reciprocity at its core, provides a useful tool to help explain the research findings.

Background

Australia, like many similar Western countries, is facing a range of social challenges. Australia has been described as one of the most unequal countries in the developed world (Wilkinson & Pickett 2009), especially in light of the high levels of disadvantage experienced by Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Smyllie et al. 2011). Additionally, it is facing a rapidly ageing population, which has implications likely to reduce the taxpayer base and increase demands on aged assistance (Madden 2006a). Increasingly, responsibility to meet these social needs is shifting towards nonprofit organisations (NPOs) who deliver welfare and other services. The philanthropic sector has also recognised its responsibility in helping to address these issues (Addis & Brown 2008) and efforts in recent years have sought more focus and collaboration in such funding via affinity groupings of private givers (1). Within national governments, policies from the 1990s onward have generally promoted concepts of 'mutual obligation', aimed at growing philanthropy and volunteering while also regulating against improprieties (Crimm 2002; McGregor-Lowndes et al. 2006; Madden 2006a). These policies have included several tax incentives to encourage philanthropy, such as cultural and environmental giving mechanisms and the creation of the Prescribed Private Fund vehicle for corporate and individual giving (now known as Prescribed Ancillary Funds), and the establishment of facilitating bodies such as the erstwhile Prime Minister's Community Business Partnership and Artsupport.

It should be noted that private funding as an appropriate NPO sustainability mechanism is sometimes criticised on a philosophical basis: it may represent government shirking its responsibilities or funding may be ill-applied (Reich 2005; Gaberman, cited in Moran 2010; Dasgupta & Kanbur 2011). The philanthropic sector reports its role as a complement to, rather than substitute for, government funding and that it can more readily finance risky, sensitive, long-term issues than the state or business (Gaberman, cited in Moran 2010). It also suggests the sector 'sees what falls through the gaps in terms of social and economic policy' (Bonyhady & Anderson 2007:4).

Whether or not private funding is a flawed model, the limits to public funding mean many charities in Australia are seeking to know more about alternatives to government support as they face funding pressures and strain to cover operational costs (ACOSS 2005). As such, there is a growing willingness by Australian NPOs to embrace philanthropy and seek more information about raising funds from the community (Madden 2006a). Major gifts in particular are often highly valued by organisations because they tend to be more reliable and flexible than other sources of funding (Sargeant et al. …

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