If the object of the business game is to beat the competition, what motivates successful entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates to give out millions each year to support the growth and development of other organizations?

Joe Coombs

Joe Coombs and Abbie Shipp, assistant professors of management at Mays Business School, have examined this topic and arrived at a potential conclusion: these organizations offer the opportunity to get what money can’t buy. Their study may benefit fundraisers seeking to engage entrepreneurs in their non-profit endeavors, as Coombs and Shipp delved into the psychological factors that motivate giving.

In their article, “Entrepreneur as Change Agent: Antecedents and Moderators of Individual-Level Philanthropic Behavior,” Coombs and Shipp discussed the topic of philanthropy as it relates to the individual. They were intrigued by the notable amount of money that goes towards charities every year. Their article states that, in 2006 alone, the amount given for charitable purposes exceeded $295 billion, with $223 billion coming from individual donors.

The fact that their research indicated wealthy individuals frequently often give charitably led to the question: “Why are successful entrepreneurs so inclined to give?”

Abbie Shipp

There are three main psychological drives that Coombs and Shipp presented as causation: immortality striving, legacy creation, and generativity. Each psychological drive represents what a successful entrepreneur values besides increasing revenue. Shipp makes the observation that, as individuals become increasingly wealthy and successful, they come to truly understand that old saying, “money isn’t everything.”

The drive behind the donation could be for the benefit of future generations, the continuation of one’s name even after the flesh has passed on, or simply for that individual’s peace of mind. The correlation between each of these reasons is that inexplicable desire for something lasting, and for something absolutely priceless that “transcends the world of flesh and blood,” according to the researchers.

  • Immortality striving: The giver has come to terms with the fact that they will die and, therefore, strive to make an impactful contribution that lasts beyond their death so that they will be remembered.
  • Legacy creation: The desire to leave something behind not to be remembered, but to feel that the giver made a difference by supporting a worthwhile cause.
  • Generativity: Giving for the benefit of future generations or for the overall progress of mankind.

There were numerous other factors involved in philanthropic giving: age, gender, religious orientation, and level of wealth were some of the “moderating factors” involved in an entrepreneur’s decision to give.

These factors all play a part in the individual’s desire to give, and may also help researchers to answer the question, “Who gives to what and to what end?” Though Coombs and Shipp qualify that the evidence is inconclusive, there is ample evidence to distinguish some correlation between how these factors cause a deviation in philanthropic behavior.

Coombs and Shipp note that their research indicates that generally, men tend to give money for recognition, while women tend to give in order to help others. Also, as one might expect, the older an entrepreneur is, the more likely giving is motivated by “quest for immortality.”