Patron or Philanthropist: Charitable Giving to a Performance-Based Leisure Provider


  • Martha Barnes
  • Ron McCarville


Philanthropy, patron, cultural organization, involvement, incentives, opportunity, social norms, empathy.


Public and not-for-profit providers have long relied on the good will of volunteers and donors to help deliver leisure services. Although considerable research has been undertaken to discover why individuals are willing to provide such time, energy, and resources, the dynamics behind charitable giving are still unclear. This study explored donor behavior toward a not-for-profit organization, specifically a comunity symphony. Donors to the symphony were surveyed to discover the history of their philanthropic involvement with the organization and the motives behind their behavior. Two models of giving were compared to determine what best explained their philanthropic behavior toward the symphony. The first model was comprised of five factors (involvement, incentive package, perceived opportunity to contribute, social norms, and empathy) while the second was comprised of the same elements but the factor “opportunity” served as a moderating variable. Structural equation modeling (SEM) suggested that the moderating variable, opportunity assessment, did not influence charitable giving among these symphony donors as much as was anticipated. Charitable giving was explained less by opportunity-based variables (donor’s experience, financial resources, or a direct request for a charitable donation) than by the material, solidary, purposive incentives donors might enjoy as a result of making a donation. Of perhaps greatest importance to the leisure manager is the finding that these respondents were positively influenced by incentives. Specifically, respondents reported positive reactions to material (tangible rewards with an associated monetary value), solidary (intangible rewards including a sense of group membership, socializing, status, and the maintenance of social distinctions), and purposive (a feeling that one is contributing to a cause and/or helping to achieve a goal) incentives. These patterns differed somewhat from those reported in studies of philanthropic behavior toward non-performance-based organizations. Whereas those who give to nonperformance groups (ranging from poverty organizations to agencies focusing on foreign aid) may expect nothing tangible in return for their donations, those who gave to this symphony seemed concerned with maintaining a performance-based service that they themselves could enjoy. In this way they might be described as patrons as much as philanthropists. There is a key conceptual and practical difference between a patron and a philanthropist, and fundraisers must make the distinction between the two. Whereas philanthropists are thought to be most concerned with helping others, patrons are concerned with improving services they too can enjoy. This suggests that particular types of fund-raising approaches are appropriate for patrons. For instance, in this study, patrons were more motivated by the high quality of the symphony’s performance than by pursuing the organization’s goals. For these patrons, traditional appeals of “with your assistance we can improve the life of others” may be less successful than “with your help we can improve the quality of the performance.” Consequently, we recommend that leisure managers who oversee performance-based programs (symphony orchestras, sports teams, concert facilities, performing arts groups) develop fund-raising programs that offer material, solidary, and purposive reward structures.





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