The Politically Incorrect Guide to Donors

Sections of this topic

    The donor pool can be (and has been!) sliced and diced in a variety of ways. My preferred method of grouping donors is by motivation:

    The” Social Donor” uses charitable contributions to attract personal visibility and social prestige. Although no one admits is, there are plenty of major gift donors who engage in philanthropy as an expression of their own vanity.

    The “Quid Pro Quo Giver” sees donations as a form of “social currency” between business and social peers – “I’ll give to yours (and I’ll expect you to give to mine when I ask).”

    The “Social Conscience Supporter” gives to one or more organizations because they truly or deeply believe in the urgency or importance of a nonprofit’s mission.

    The true “Philanthropist” carefully invests wealth in the nonprofit sector — specifically and deliberately — in order to benefit the general good of mankind, and to effect positive, substantive change in the world.

    Before you ask someone for a gift, examine what their motivation might be. If what they want is access to movers and shakers on the A list, it really won’t matter how many baby whales you could save with their gift.

    Another way of identifying donor groups is by the level and type of involvement they are likely to desire with the charities they support. Here again, we can crudely classify them in the following four categories:

    The “Traditionalist” is likely to be over the age of 60, and once the gift is made, is not prone to becoming involved in a very “hands on” fashion with the charity.

    The “Pre- and Young Boomer” generation (age range of about 35 to 50) lived through the dotcom bust. Some would argue that dotcoms went bust because the ‘younguns’ who created and ran the start-ups thought they had all the business answers – although many had never been exposed to business. These folks are the ones who want to see nonprofits run “like businesses” and want to be actively involved in tightening operations at the charities they support. Unfortunately, many have never had any experience with or in nonprofits before – but that won’t stop them from telling you how to run your “business.”

    The “Revolutionary” wants to re-form the relationship between the philanthropic sector and the global economic system, investing funds – literally – to create hybrid solutions to make change in the world more efficiently and effectively. Their approach takes a variety of forms, ranging from social ventures, to social entrepreneurship or philanthropreneurship, to the latest – philanthrocapitalism. This group is focused primarily on systems change, and may or may not be actively involved in working with “boots on the ground” charities. They will want to see some innovation in your organization’s revenue model, as well as scaleability.

    The “Tweeters” are in their late teens, 20’s and early 30’s. They don’t necessarily have a lot of money (or any money) to give, but are energetic, bright, and have been steeped in a culture of voluntarism and service to humanity. They spend their time communicating via social media and tend to see the universe globally rather than locally. They are more likely to organize a tweet-up or twitter group for individuals seeking to support third-world women in establishing economic independence than to volunteer at the local domestic violence shelter. They want to understand how your work connects to a global injustice, and if you can show them, they will bring enthusiasm and energy to your nonprofit. Once the school loans are paid, they’ll be in a position to contribute money as well.

    Gross generalizations? Absolutely! But having some benchmarks by which you can approximate a donor’s motivation – and understand how they will assess and interact with your organization – can minimize both the miscommunication and misunderstandings fostered by “one size fits all” cultivation.

    Farewell, and fare well until next week …


    For more resources, see our Library topic Nonprofit Capacity Building.