Posted by: Ray Brescia | March 18, 2013

“Friending” Philanthropy: Harnessing Personal Connections to Cement Strong Relationships

Research by the private wealth management fund SEI shows that wealthy donors care about the impact their donations will have and need to feel a personal connection to a cause in order to support it.  Peer-to-peer fundraising has often been used in many contexts to leverage personal connections to garner support, financial and political.  Senator Rob Portman’s (R-OH) recent shift to support gay marriage echoes the stance of former Vice President Dick Cheney on the topic.   When a close relative comes out as gay, it would seem, it can be harder to oppose equal rights for a family member.

Even in the age of super-connectedness through electronic means, the outcome of presidential elections, where billions are now spent on the campaign, can still come down to the power of peer-to-peer suasion.  As Sasha Issenberg points out in his recent book, The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, personal appeals from peers and acquaintances—even when done over Facebook—had a great impact on garnering support for a preferred candidate.  Even before the age of social media, in early 2004, the New York Times ran a lengthy story comparing the Bush and Kerry ground games in Ohio.  Kerry opted for paid consultants; Bush preferred volunteers and the personal approach: neighbor talking to neighbor.   Bush won the state.

I was fortunate to have received degrees from two reputable institutions of higher education.  They both have representatives call for financial support.  One chooses paid representatives with no relationship to the institution– other than as employer-employee–to make appeals to me, which they make often.  The other uses my classmates, and they contact me sparingly.  You can guess which receives more from me, and more often.

Personal connections are powerful.  We want our peers to think well of us.  And we want their support when we look for it too.  As Yogi Berra once said: “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.”

We trust those who are closest to us, sometimes irrationally.  Philanthropy, politics, community organizing: each must learn from, and leverage, the power of personal connections.


  1. Ray – this is a great reminder of the power of personal connections and impact. Often expectations are that those served by an organization should be supporting the organization regardless of message, impact, etc. That thought is a strategic pitfall. With changing generations and enormous trust deficits with public institutions – including charities – the conversation has changed. We now talk about giving as an investment and not something that should be expected, but something that is earned. With the depth of information available today along with competing deserving interests, transparency and impact is key. As we say, people don’t give to organizations that have needs, people give to organizations that meet needs.

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