Save the Children's new approach to engage major donors

Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles with children at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Donors who will contribute $1 million and above to the Simon Society fund will have a chance to travel with Miles to one of the Save the Children’s domestic or international programs. Photo by: Save the Children / CC BY-NC-ND

The practice of rewarding donors with perks that correspond to their levels of contributions is not a new idea.

Charities and crowdfunding initiatives alike always try to engage their supporters through various incentives for different causes, but Save the Children, which already receives significant support from private donors, now wants to take this a step further by leveraging these contributions through “a new global philanthropic community.”

The newly launched Simon Society fund — named after Sam Simon, co-creator of popular TV cartoon series “The Simpsons” and a longtime Save the Children donor — will allow its donors to have an insider’s view of the organization’s programs around the world. Following his 2013 announcement that he had terminal cancer, Simon said he would be giving away his wealth to his favorite charitable organizations. One of these is Save the Children, which he has been supporting for 25 years. As a major donor to the NGO, Simon has met former child soldiers in Nepal, farmers in Guatemala and children in Haiti. Through the Simon Society fund, those who donate a minimum of $10,000 will get the same opportunity to get closer to Save the Children’s work on the ground.

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“The unrestricted nature of the Simon Society funding allows us to better leverage the support of our donors who restrict their funds to designated projects,” Robert Thompson, Save the Children’s vice president for resource development, told Devex. “As the giving society grows, it will enable us to scale up programs and make them sustainable to create a bigger impact for children.”

Save the Children, after all, seems to have a large base of potential donors for the fund. Last year, it raised $318.7 million in private gifts, grants and contracts — a 10 percent increase from the $286.5 million it received in 2012.

An overview of Save the Children’s operations in 2013 shows where the Simon Society contributions will likely be spent. Much of Save the Children’s work was done in Asia ($249.8 million) and Africa ($178.5 million), while 89.4 percent of its funds went to program services. Emergencies ($211.9 million), health and nutrition ($140 million) and education ($104 million) comprised the largest share of program spending.

Below are more highlights from our conversation with Thompson about the fund and the organization’s future fundraising plans:

Donors can contribute a range of amounts to the fund and participate in corresponding activities that are commensurate to their contribution. How did you plan these different ranges and their corresponding perks?

We modeled the Simon Society after other impactful giving societies at institutes of higher learning and museums. A giving society is a tried and true way to recognize donors. We know that our donors have compassion for children’s needs and want to make a difference. But they also want to feel a real connection to Save the Children. By recognizing their commitment and offering them “insider” opportunities, the Simon Society is a way to bring major donors closer to the organization. As our donors’ giving levels increase, we are able to offer them stronger ties to the organization, such as meeting with Save the Children’s leadership, program officers and witnessing firsthand the great work our donors’ support is helping us do.

How will Save the Children use the money from this fund?

Members of the Simon Society recognize that the organization needs the flexibility to respond to needs as they occur, and as priorities may shift due to changing circumstances. For example, Save the Children responds quickly to emergency situations caused by natural and other disasters that put children in harm’s way. The fluidity of the Simon Society funding allows us to make decisions on where the need is greatest at any given time.

Charitable giving hit a record high in the United States last year, and giving by individuals comprised the largest share of total giving. How do you plan to tap into this demographic for the fund?

Save the Children is fortunate to have a dedicated group of individuals who support our mission and programs and we believe the new Sam Simon giving society will be very attractive to them. Simon Society enables Save the Children to recognize major donors and encourage their further engagement. We will also be looking to expand our donor base by having Save the Children’s existing major supporters who are key influencers reach out to their networks and invite them to join the Simon Society.

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About the author

  • Anna Patricia Valerio

    Anna Patricia Valerio is a former Manila-based development analyst who focused on writing innovative, in-the-know content for senior executives in the international development community. Before joining Devex, Patricia wrote and edited business, technology and health stories for BusinessWorld, a Manila-based business newspaper.