Your clients have worked hard and achieved great wealth. They are generous, well-meaning people who want to use their wealth to make a difference and leave a legacy.
Perhaps you’ve helped them set up a donor-advised fund or private foundation. And then? Nothing. When you speak with them about how they’d like to engage in their charitable giving, they seem paralyzed with uncertainty.
Chances are, they’re fearful of philanthropy.
Creating wealth and holding it can be a very private enterprise. But giving it away can open a donor up to questions, scrutiny, or even straight-up criticism.
Here are four kinds of fear I’ve seen most often in charitable giving, and what you can do to help.
1. Fear of Being Seen
As I mentioned above, giving away money can be a very public business. Many wealthy donors fear that once their community discovers their philanthropy, they’ll be accosted by requests. Others fear that if they publicly support a cause or an issue, they’ll open themselves up to criticism or attack, or possibly damage some existing relationships.
Look no further than recent headlines for evidence of this. Jeff Bezos’ recent pledge of $10 billion to fight climate change sparked instant criticism that he contributes to pollution through Amazon’s excessive parcel packaging. A donor of more modest wealth might wonder if she will also be negatively judged for her gifts.
How You Can Help: While it may be tempting to facilitate anonymous charitable transactions for a client, anonymous giving isn’t very effective for donors who really want to make a difference. Good giving comes from trusting relationships with other donors and community leaders.
Help your clients cultivate them. Arrange for some quiet lunches between your clients and others who have similar charitable interests. Encourage them to meet with the nonprofit leaders they are interested in supporting. Let them see they’re not alone in the work of giving and connect them with allies who will boost their confidence.
2. Fear of Failure
Many charitable individuals feel paralyzed by the responsibility that comes with wealth and philanthropy. They are afraid they won’t be good stewards of the charitable resources they control.
They fear they’ll make bad grant decisions or invest in projects that end up not working. And probably most important, they fear they’ll disappoint others whenever they have to say no.