“I’m Not Rockefeller”: 33 Philanthropists Share Charitable-Giving Approaches in Study by Penn Philanthropy Center

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto-Haines | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820September 12, 2008


PHILADELPHIA — A sizable percentage of high-net-worth givers do not see themselves as philanthropists even though each gives away about a million dollars or more annually.

That is among the findings of a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy.

The CHIP study involved structured interviews with 33 anonymous high-net-worth individuals, each capable of giving $1 million annually.

“I’m Not Rockefeller: 33 High Net Worth Philanthropists Discuss Their Approach to Giving” examines how these people approach their charitable giving.

Researchers found a set of diverse and evolving practices, a strong reliance on peers for information, a narrow and negative view of evaluation and difficulty exiting established relationships with non-profits, even when the philanthropist felt it was the right thing to do.

And about a third of the study participants did not view themselves as “philanthropists,” despite their considerable generosity.

“Several participants said things like, ‘I’m a really nice guy who gives money to charities. I don’t think that makes me a philanthropist,’” Katherina Rosqueta, CHIP executive director, said.

“Or, ‘the word “philanthropist” still cracks me up because it sounds so hoity-toity. I’m not Rockefeller.’ This, despite the fact that their giving is much greater than the average charitable contribution of the top U.S. income group,” Rosqueta said.

The study offers implications for those working to improve philanthropic effectiveness.

“The good news,” Rosqueta said, “is that these philanthropists are capable of giving much more than they do, and many acknowledge that. The bad news is that the lack of time and trusted resources mean that, despite their good intentions, many just sit on the capital because they don’t feel confident about making smart decisions. Unless we can figure out ways to get them to good decisions faster, we will be missing out on a lot of good that this latent capital could create.”

The study’s findings, key themes and implications for the field are available from the Center’s Web site: www.impact.upenn.edu.

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy was established by alumni of Penn’s Wharton School and is housed at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice. It provides information and tools to allow philanthropists to determine where their gifts have the greatest potential to improve the lives of others