Unillusioned philanthropy and fundraising
McLoughlin, John (2014)

John McLoughlin, Centre for Philanthropy, University of Kent


The argument of this paper is that philanthropy and fundraising cannot be seen as a reliable, predictable source of income that can solve society’s greatest challenges.  It is naïve to think that philanthropic pounds can fill large-scale withdrawals of state funding or, on their own, transform society.  At the same time as we enter a long-term era of constraint in collective funding in the UK, the rest of Europe and North America, non-profit organisations will need to:

1.     become more skilled in engaging philanthropic support and social investment;

2.     and yet also be realistic, sceptical – ‘hard-headed’ and shorn of illusion – in their search for funds;

3.     embrace fundraising as a core activity that is morally worthwhile, as well as strategically important;

4.     see donors and potential donors as partners and peers, working together.

To reach these conclusions the paper draws on historical examples (see References below), the practice literature of fundraising and secondary literature on donor motivation and behaviour, to contend that philanthropy:

1.     while often cast as a private activity, is – and always has been – seen as an obligation of the wealthier;

2.     occurs in most complex societies;

3.     is a negotiated, contested activity;

4.     has political dimensions not always articulated or even recognised by practitioners;

5.     is best seen as a sub-category of the wider types of giving that underpin and shape all social interaction (see e.g. Komter, 2005) and subject to the risks, ambiguities and negotiation of power and affect that inform all social relationships;

6.     has a symbolic and moral value that exceeds its material, financial impact.

Biographical note

John Mc Loughlin is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin. Starting out as a medieval historian, he has been a major gift fundraiser and consultant most of his career and led the European division of Global Philanthropic for six years. His current research projects include a history of fundraising in UK universities 1980 – c.2010, based on recorded interviews with fundraising leaders; and the reframing from a practitioner perspective of the interaction between fund-seekers and fund-givers


Komter, A. E. (2005). Social solidarity and the gift. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Historical references to include

Adam, T. (2004). Philanthropy, patronage, and civil society: experiences from Germany, Great Britain, and North America. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Adam, T. (2009). Buying respectability: philanthropy and urban society in transnational perspective, 1840s to 1930s. Bloomington, NI: Indiana University Press.

Adam, Thomas (2014). ‘Profit and Philanthropy: Stock Companies as Philanthropic Institution in Nineteenth Century Germany’, Voluntas 25: 2, 337-351.

Ben-Amos, I. K. (2008). The culture of giving: informal support and gift-exchange in early modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Charles William, K. and C. W. Kellaway (1961). The New England Company, 1649-1776. Missionary society to the American Indians. London: Longmans.

Clark, M. P., ed. (2003). The Eliot Tracts : with letters from John Eliot to Thomas Thorowgood and Richard Baxter. Westport, CT ; London: Praeger. Collins, R. and N. Hickman (1991). ‘Altruism and culture as social products.’ Voluntas 2(2): 1-15.

Cutlip, S. M. (1965/1990). Fund raising in the United States: its role in America’s philanthropy. Foreword by Merle Curti. New Brunswick, NJ; London, UK: Transaction Publishers.

Davidson, J. N. (1998). Courtesans & fishcakes: the consuming passions of classical Athens. London: Fontana Press (HarperCollins).

Friedman, L. J. and M. D. McGarvie, Eds. (2002). Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gross, R. A. (2002). ‘Giving in America: From charity to philanthropy’. Charity, philanthropy, and civility in American history. In  L. J. Friedman and M. D. McGarvie: 29-48

Ostrower, F. (1995). Why the wealthy give: the culture of elite philanthropy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Raymond Phineas, S. and R. P. Stearns (1954). The strenuous puritan. Hugh Peter, 1598-1660. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois.

Rubin, M. (1987). Charity and community in medieval Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Salisbury, John of. (1955). ed. W. J. Millor, H. E. Butler and C. N. L. Brooke (1955). The Letters of John of Salisbury Volume 1 : The Early Letters (1153-1161). London: Nelson.

Seager, R. (1975). ‘Elitism and Democracy in Classical Athens’. The Rich, the Well Born and the Powerful. F. C. Japher. Secaucus, N.J.: The Citadel Press: 7 – 26.

Shapely, P. (2000). Charity and power in Victorian Manchester. Manchester,:Smith Settle on behalf of the Chetham Society.

Shapely, P. (2001). ‘Urban charity, class relations and social cohesion: charitable responses to the Cotton Famine.’ Urban History 28(01): 46-64.

Silver, A. (1990). ‘Friendship in Commercial Society: Eighteenth-Century Social Theory and Modern Sociology.’ American Journal of Sociology 95(6): 1474-1504.

Singer, A. (2008). Charity in Islamic societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, J. H. (2009). The art of doing good: charity in late Ming China. Berkeley, CA ; London: University of California Press.

Sunderland, D. (2007). Social capital, trust and the Industrial Revolution: 1780 1880. London: Taylor & Francis.

Thoen, I. (2007). Strategic affection? Gift exchange in seventeenth-century Holland, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Ysabaert, W. (2005). ‘Medieval Letter-Collections as a Mirror of Circles of Friendship? The Example of Stephen of Tournai, 1128- 1203.’ Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 83(2): 285-300.

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