Andrew Sabatino interviews Adrian Sargeant ahead of his Australian tour!

“I hope the next decade will see the business world learning far more from philanthropy than the other way around” – Adrian Sargeant

It’s no secret fundraising can benefit from lessons learned in the business world. But an over-reliance on note-checking with the commercial sector can hold back philanthropy from reaching its true potential to build more fulfilling relationships with supporters.

No one articulates this thought better than Professor Adrian Sargeant. I’ve been in awe at his science-backed research and insights from afar for many years now. And I’m thrilled that Australian and New Zealand audiences can engage up close with Adrian and his equally inspirational collaborator Professor Jen Shang when they arrive for Donor Republic’s International Speaker Series in November.

To commemorate the announcement of this year’s event, I spoke with Adrian about his journey so far and how philanthropy can become a powerhouse of its own ideas, read on below and enjoy…


In preparation for his upcoming Donor Republic Speaker Series tour, Adrian Sargeant sat down with Donor Republic Cofounder, Andrew Sabatino, to share why he’s more excited about philanthropy than ever before.

Andrew Sabatino, Donor Republic: What drives your passion for fundraising?

Professor Adrian Sargeant: I’ve been fortunate to work with a wide variety of charities and some incredible people along the way. Most of the great fundraisers I know could be earning substantively more if they applied their talents in the commercial world. But they choose not to do that, but rather to dedicate themselves to a cause that they care deeply about. Great fundraisers are smart, passionate, driven and deeply curious people – and it’s a pleasure to work with them.

What excites you most about fundraising over the coming decade?

I’m a great believer in learning culture. In our fundraising research we identified how this culture was critical in the pursuit of substantive fundraising growth. Yet much of that learning that has been adopted from the commercial sector and has been adopted with way too little thought given as to whether it might be entirely appropriate. Business based approaches to the building of relationships are a case in point. I’ve seen a “business knows best” perspective drive the focus of most of our innovation. So what excites me about the future? Not closing the door on learning from the commercial sector, obviously, but rather becoming the powerhouse of our own ideas. Innovations from the field of philanthropy for the field of philanthropy. I hope the next decade will see the business world learning far more from philanthropy than the other way around.

There are continual generational shifts in supporter bases. What are challenges you see that charities face in sustaining and growing their programs?

In many western countries we are seeing a decline in participation in giving. The donor pool is contracting and the traditional base of support is moving into retirement and eventually, passing. So charities need to reinvent themselves and find new ways of garnering support. Boomers may have been comfortable giving money away or giving the gift of money to help with a cause that is dear to them. Millennials will not. They’ll be looking for ways to engage with their passions. Certainly that might involve the giving of a gift, but they’ll be looking for more and how they can engage in a more holistic way. Relationships will become ever more significant as the means through which additional value can be created and we’ll be devoting ever more time to how we make people feel when we communicate.

What are the common traits you’re seeing in leading charities?

They invest in their people. One of my passions has been fundraising education. Fundraising should not be the only profession one can join without needing to know anything. There is now a substantive and robust body of knowledge that fundraisers should be exposed to when they engage in fundraising, manage fundraising or direct the fundraising function as a whole. There are skills and knowledge appropriate to each. Unfortunately the “business knows best” philosophy is evident in this domain too, with business qualifications often being seen as superior. They are not. Our sector has its own body of knowledge that should be shaping our thinking and driving up the very distinctive value that we deliver for the communities we serve.

When I first started teaching in Higher Education 30 years ago, people were looking down their noses at marketing education, eschewing it for qualifications in “more established” fields such as economics or finance. I’d hear people say – “oh you don’t need a qualification in marketing you can just pick that up from experience.” Few would say that now. The past 30 years have seen a revolution in the take-up of marketing education and rightly so. The disrespect has vanished.

I wish we could have the same revolution in fundraising. It would transform the quality of the donor experience AND grow participation in philanthropy. We know how to do that – but fundraisers new to the profession won’t pick that up in a for-profit marketing class.

Are there any glaring mistakes that you see fundraisers make again and again?

As a profession we’re very good at identifying need, crafting that need into an emotional and compelling case for support and getting that message out to those who are most likely to offer that support. It’s our current skillset.

Where we need to be though – is giving at least as much thought to how we will make people feel when we do that.

We’re just not there yet.

Thanks for your time Adrian, we’re eager to see you on our shores in November!


BRISBANE: Fri 3 November – Brisbane

SYDNEY: Mon 6 November – Sydney

ONLINE: Wed 8 November – Online event (SA/WA/TAS/NT/NZ)

MELBOURNE: Thu 9 November – Melbourne

Professor Adrian Sargeant will arrive in Australia alongside Professor Jen Shang as special guest speakers for Donor Republic’s International Speaker Series 2023 this November. For tickets and full details, visit

Adrian Sargeant is the Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy. Adrian is listed by as one of the UK’s leading Business and Management academics having published 249 articles and been cited over 8000 times by his peers.