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Interviewing Elite Donors: Gaining access, developing rapport and dealing with the dazzle

Breeze, Beth (2023) Interviewing Elite Donors: Gaining access, developing rapport and dealing with the dazzle. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 34 (1). pp. 154-161. ISSN 0957-8765. E-ISSN 1573-7888. (doi:10.1007/s11266-021-00390-2) (KAR id:89879)


Elite donors are a crucial and sought-after source of funding for many nonprofit organisations but there is a dearth of substantive empirical studies presenting primary data on such donors’ motivations, experiences and perspectives. There are challenges for social scientists in conducting interviews with elites, notably: gaining access to elite donors; developing sufficient rapport to discuss a topic that involves money and morals; and making sense of data without being dazzled by striking surface differences between elites and non-elites. These barriers have resulted in a long-standing over-reliance on secondary sources, and on interviews with proxies such as foundation staff and wealth advisers. This paper reviews the small body of work that presents findings from interviews with elite donors, and draws on my experience of conducting interviews with 46 wealthy UK donors, in order to critically analyse the implementation of this research design. This paper adds to the literature by extending understanding of elite donors’ reasons for agreeing to be interviewed, and contributes to advancing third sector research by highlighting strategies to overcome challenges in conducting elite interviews in order to gain a less mediated understanding of the contexts, cultures and subjectivities of their focus of study.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1007/s11266-021-00390-2
Uncontrolled keywords: Philanthropy; Elite donors; Interviews; Research design
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare > HV27 Philanthropists
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Beth Breeze
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2021 08:29 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 12:42 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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