Top 10 Trends: How Major Donors are Changing and What To Do About It

Major donors have changed a lot in what they want and expect from nonprofits.

Hope this works

“Spray and pray” fundraising doesn’t work anymore!

Ten years ago, you could raise good money with a “spray and pray”  appeal that was boring and generic.

Now we have to work harder and smarter.

The good news is that we can rely on plenty of research about major donors. What are they are thinking about their philanthropy and nonprofits?

I’ve culled through the research – and here are my Top 10 Major Donor Trends for 2013 – along with a strategy to ride each trend productively.

I’m presenting all this for the first time this week in San Diego at the International AFP Conference.

If you are attending, PLEASE come to my session on Major Donor Trends. (Tuesday,  April 9 12:45-2pm)  And do sit in the front row and be a friendly face. 🙂

Trend 1. Donors are wary of trusting us.

Trust is a huge issue these days. What can you do to help your donors trust you?

Timothy Ogden, the author of Guidestar’s “More Money for More Good”, claimed yesterday that donors do NOT pick nonprofits based on their impact. What?

Instead, he said that donors choose charities based on personal relationships. Wow.

Agree or not – he does have a huge point.

Getting to know major donors personally is a must.

How can they trust you if they don’t know you? Why would they invest in you?

Your Strategy: Build trust by fostering personal relationships with your major donors.

Trend 2. The Boomers are becoming the #1 donor population.

Boomers, how do we love thee?

Values of boomers focus on the self.

Values of boomers focus on the self.

Boomers own most of the nation’s wealth, they are more generous than the Silent Generation, and they volunteer in droves.

What do boomers want? They want personal self-expression.

They want to express their passions and their individuality. They want to be involved.

Your Strategy:  Let Boomers’ personal passions and interests guide their cultivation plan.  Help them connect to what is most meaningful to them.

Trend 3.  Older ladies are THE major donor demographic.

Here’s something amazing. Women are far, far more generous than men. (Hey, we knew this, didn’t we?)

A recent study found that women are more than TWICE as generous than men.

For every $100 boomer and older men gave, women in the very same economic circumstances gave $258!!

Women are more likely to give to charity, and they are more likely to give more. (Women Give 2012, Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Indiana University.)

The ladies are far more generous than the gentlemen.

The ladies are far more generous than the gentlemen.

Your Strategy:  Review your prospect lists.  Reevaluate the giving capacity of the ladies.  Get to work and go see them.

Trend 4.  Donors want Donor-Centered communications.

Donors don’t want to hear you talking talking talking about how wonderful you are.

How do they hear your presentation? As blah, blah, blah.

Try talking (or listening) to your donors about what they think; what they believe; what they want to see in the world. Then they will be happy.

Strategy:  Slant everything toward the donors’ perspective. Stop talking so much about you and your wonderful organization.

Trend 5.  Major donors who volunteer give more. Much more.

The Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy  that came out a few months ago had some interesting information:

Many hIgh net worth donors are volunteering and taking it very seriously.

And those who volunteered over 100 hours last year gave their organizations an average of $78k.  (compared to an average gift of $39k for those who volunteered less.)

Many major donors will interact with you on Facebook.

Many major donors will interact with you on Facebook.

Your Strategy: Get your donors and prospects on site and in action.

Trend 6.  Major donors are all over social media.

Should you “friend” a major donor on Facebook?

Well if a major donor friended me, I sure would not ignore them!

The fact is – some major donors WANT to connect with you on social media.  That’s their preferred communications channel.

Remember – getting to know you personally is vitally important. (See trend #1).

So don’t be afraid of Facebook. Just don’t post pictures of you and your beer bong, ok?

Your Strategy: Use facebook freely if your donors are there.

Trend 7. Major donors look at their gifts as investments. They want to see impact and ROI.

Ok, this is not new.

We all know this: donors will often give MORE if you let them designate their gifts.

Of course, major gifts are almost always focused or designated for one area or another.

Even if donors are making an unrestricted major gift to “operations,” they understand why and what that will achieve.

BUT it’s up to us to talk to donors in this language. It’s more specific. And it’s about results.

Charity Water does a terrific job showing results with numbers.

Charity Water does a terrific job showing results with numbers.

Your Strategy: Let major donors fund something specific.

Trend 8. Major donors are assured when they see the financials and the numbers.

They are not so very sure they trust you anyway. (See trend #1)

So showing them the numbers really does help.

Discussing your financials with donors is a great opportunity for them to understand where the money goes and how much it really costs.

I don’t know why more fundraisers don’t simply talk about where the money is or will be spent.

That conversation creates such trust and credibility.

Your Strategy: Be transparent. Show them the numbers. Measure and show your results.

Trend 9. Like most of us, donors are feeling overwhelmed, jaded, and even bored.

Everybody is inundated with media messages. We are all hopelessly busy.

Totally delightful appeal!

Totally delightful appeal!

Nobody is having any fun!

Major donors are in overwhelm, too.

So how do you reach a bored donor?

You are offbeat, playful and fun. Then your donors will read your stuff first.

This can give you a huge edge over everybody else.

Your Strategy: Add surprise and delight to everything you do.

Trend 10. Major donors love a Big Idea. –

How did Stanford University manage to be the first to raise a billion in one year?

Stanford raised $1 billion/year with Big Ideas.

Stanford raised $1 billion/year with Big Ideas.

They had plenty of Big Ideas.!

“Stanford has been doing a remarkable job. They have some very big ideas, they are good at capturing people’s imagination, thinking about what they can do and what they could be,” said Anne E. Kaplan in the New York Times.

Your Strategy: What are your Big Ideas? Talk about them with your donors!

Bottom line:

These strategies can put you ahead of the pack.

Now it’s time to sharpen your story, your prospect list, your financials, your focus and get out of the office!

And show those major donor prospects some love.

Please leave me a comment and tell me what you think of this list!

17 replies
  1. Terry Holsinger
    Terry Holsinger says:

    I love your “Trends:”! Thank you. As a newbie – although I’m 73 years old (flunked retirement twice – or was it three times?) I’m learning a lot AND reinforcing some of what seems to be the natural conclusion. I know the personal contact issue is huge. As a salesman for many years (was it decades?) face-to-face meetings was what got it done. Now, however there is a problem – no budget. For those of you (Gail, I’m sure you’re aware of what I will say here) many small colleges or Seminaries have no (read – none) travel budget. Question is – in this Email Age – can Emails get the job done – by themselves – without personal meetings? How about a head shot for one’s email? Any help? How does one go about asking the head of a multi-national billion dollar company – or his/her personal assistant who answers his/her mail – to be your “Friend” on Facebook? Just blurt it out? Or is there a degree of finesse needed? My expectation is that this could go either way – bold or finessing – your comments? Thanks!

  2. gailperry
    gailperry says:

    Hi Terry! Unfortunately you can’t rush a relationship. If you push too hard too quickly you will turn off your prospect. It’s just like a courtship. You don’t ask a lady to marry you on the first date.

    So my advice when you have no budget, start small and focus in on just a few people who you can actually get hold of and get in front of. Gail

  3. Clifford Williams
    Clifford Williams says:

    Your Top 10 Trends on fundrasing are great! I will share this information with my board members and will, of course, use these tips in my personal fundraising efforts.

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