Triggers for philanthropy

What can charities learn from Mark Zuckerberg's recent pledge to give away 99% of his shares in Facebook to charity? Lillian Brown shares some important insights into triggers for philanthropy


Ask any philanthropist what motivates them to give to charity and you'll get a variety of responses. But one of the most common themes we hear is linked to some sort of personal story associated with someone or something that is extremely ‘close to home.’

In early December Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced plans to give away 99 per cent of their shares in the company to good causes. The news came as they celebrated the birth of their daughter, Max.

Mr Zuckerberg made the announcement in a letter to his daughter on his Facebook page, pledging to donate their fortune to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to make the world a better place for her to grow up in. The new charitable organisation is aimed at ‘advancing human potential and promoting equality for all children in the next generation.’


The arrival of their newborn baby was a clear trigger for the couple. Here are three other triggers that helped establish philanthropic ventures:

1) Dame Stephanie's late son, Giles, was profoundly autistic. She became an early member of the National Autistic Society and set up the Shirley Foundation, which funds many projects related to autism. She cited her son’s autism as her key reason for setting up the Foundation so more children like her late son could be helped.

2) Jeff Raikes, a former Microsoft senior executive and later, chief executive of the Gates Foundation, said his parents’ and daughter’s  challenges in school were his incentives for getting into philanthropy and eventually setting up his own foundation.

3) Paul Hamlyn came to the UK in 1933 with his family as a 13-year-old Jewish migrant. Like many Jewish families, they left Germany to escape Nazi persecution. He founded the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in 1987 for general charitable purposes and, because of his childhood experiences, his interest was in social justice, challenging prejudice and opening up the arts and education to everyone - particularly young people.


Three golden rules

So if a new born baby, a son, parents, a daughter and childhood experiences can help trigger millions of pounds in giving, how might charities stand the best chance of tapping into these philanthropic funds to further our work in the community?

There are three golden rules for getting your work funded by a philanthropist:

  1. Recognise that at their best philanthropists are innovative, flexible, forward-looking; much more so than public sector funders who can be restrictive and bureaucratic.
  2. Don’t look on them as a longterm prospect. While some will give you money for a few years, their grants tend to reduce over time; always check their individual criteria.
  3. Philanthropic giving isn't merely a grant; it's an invitation to share a mission. Numerous philanthropists say that for them giving isn't difficult, rather it’s a joy! Treat these grant makers like donors – invite them to your fundraisers and relevant events, invite their views and respond to them, keep them in the picture at all times and enjoy the relationship.


If you'd like to book a one-to-one appointment for the next fundraising surgery on Tuesday 26 January 2016, email

Image photo credit: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook