What Donors Want – Episode #5: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Fundraisers – the fifth episode of What Donors Want is out and it’s a big one – featuring the one and only Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For those who haven’t listened yet, What Donors Want is a podcast by I.G. Advisors, which offers a fresh, dynamic (and slightly irreverent) view into major gifts fundraising from the donor’s perspective. Each episode, we interview a different kind of major donor and get right down to it: what do they actually want from the fundraisers who cultivate them. All of this and more – straight from the donor’s mouth.

Our past episodes feature a wide variety of donors – from the Hewlett Foundation to Comic Relief. And now our fifth episode features an exclusive, behind-the-scenes view into the largest Foundation in the world: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We had the privilege of speaking with Jennifer Alcorn (a Senior Programme Officer) and Emily Inslee (a Programme Manager) at the Foundation, both of whom work at Gates Philanthropy Partners: a 501c3 that offers donors the opportunity to give to a Gates programme alongside the Foundation.


The critical importance of strategic alignment

Gates Foundation quotation from What Donors Want interview

To say Gates is a foundation familiar to most fundraisers would be an understatement. So we were curious to ask Jenn and Emily about the mistakes fundraisers make in their approach. They shared so many excellent examples of dos and don’ts – and emphasised the most common mistake is when fundraisers are too pushy and don’t do their research.

Strategic alignment is fundamental to a grant’s approval at Gates; there is simply no way around this. Don’t try to make a square peg slightly more round.

The Dream Fundraiser

Bill and Melinda Gates foundation quote from What Donors Want interview

We also spoke to Jenn and Emily about what ideal qualities they want to see in a fundraiser, and whether they’ve actually encountered these in a real-life person. The short answer is they don’t encounter this ‘dream fundraiser’ often, and the details are something you won’t want to miss. On the other hand, for listener inspiration, they generously shared an example of the best fundraiser they’ve worked with, along with what made her so specifically excellent. In their words, “the best fundraisers always have substance” (Jenn) and “what really shines through is that personal connection fundraisers make grounded in their passions and strengths” (Emily).

As the largest foundation in the world, with an endowment of $40 billion and annual grant-making budget of $4 billion, Gates is a funder that has truly seen it all – and truly has the platform to influence global change. However, “fundraisers often look at [them] and think dollar signs – when what [they] want people to think is partner.

Somebody who’s going to provide thinking and strategy” (Jenn).

Our exclusive interview was nothing short of brilliant. You can hear the entire conversation between me, I.G.’s Carlos Miranda, and Jenn and Emily by subscribing to What Donors Want on iTunes. And stay tuned for our very exciting next episode (which will be recorded with a live audience!), coming shortly.