All About Estates

Intrinsic v. Extrinsic Giving

There is a fundraising truism that says you don’t get money unless you ask for it. But as estate planning professional know that’s not always true.

A difference between lifetime gifts made directly to charity and estate donations is motivation. Often lifetime gifts are extrinsically motivated; estate donations are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. In other words, most everyday gifts are the result of an external solicitation; estate donations are more often triggered by the internal values and personal situation of the donor. One is outside in; the other is inside out.

Years ago, I labelled the classic peer-to-peer fundraising model “social giving”. Social giving depends on a complex mix of societal expectations, community bonds, pride, guilt and altruism. Think about it. A lot of fundraising is based on volunteers asking their peers to give, participate, show up and be counted. There is reliance on community good will, mutual obligations, social standing (donor recognition anyone?) and, at times, good old-fashion peer pressure. While generosity and commitment to the cause play a role, at heart, “people give to people” – which is another old fundraising truism.

By contrast, estate donations typically happen in the private planning space. It’s not about what others expect of you, but rather what you want to do. The process is driven by planning.  Tax issues play a bigger role with asset gifts than with gifts from income.  Goals are identified through discovery with a professional. An estate donor supports charities they believe in, but it is rarely primarily because they are asked to do so by the charity itself. These intrinsically motivated donations are “personal” gifts.

Being aware of this motivational divide is helpful to planners, fundraisers and donors. Understand that some individuals — particularly the affluent who get solicited often — may need to learn a different way to give during the estate planning process that is not dependent on the expectations of others. They need the space to make important personal decisions. This is typically a freeing experience that leads to more meaningful philanthropy — grounded in their own values and beliefs.

About Malcolm Burrows
Malcolm is a philanthropic advisor with over 30 years of experience. He is head, philanthropic advisory services at Scotia Wealth Management and founder of Aqueduct Foundation. Views are his own.


  1. Carmen

    May 31, 2018 - 5:59 pm

    Thanks Malcolm. This is helpful to remember as we move more and more towards “integrated solicitation” models. It may not be as simple as tacking a GP ask onto a MG proposal…

  2. Charles O'Neil

    June 4, 2018 - 12:55 pm

    Great article Malcolm. I remember your original article in Gift Planning in Canada and appreciate this reminder of the two main motivators for giving. And I agree with Carmen that using a deferred gift ask simply as a fall back for when an outright gift ask is turned down is to ignore what motivates the donor. Yet this approach seems prevalent in capital campaigns.

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