The Importance of Understanding Donor Characteristics
Years ago, while working at the University of Louisville, I went on a road trip with a colleague from the University of Kentucky. He allowed me to go on several face-to-face calls with him. I was new to the development profession, and he was a seasoned professional. I was just learning about prospects and donors. He gave me a quick overview of donor characteristics and noted the importance of having this intelligence when engaging donors.
I remembered his wisdom as it stimulated my doctoral dissertation topic that examined the characteristics of alumni donors versus non-donors at Butler University. I wanted to determine if greater fundraising success would occur through targeted solicitation appeals toward alumni who possess selected favorable demographic characteristics for giving. I determined from a group of independent variables what variables stood out as being the most effective for me to utilize over time. There was importance in understanding donor characteristics.
According to Janet Brewer, J.D., the top giving characteristics of donors, with respect to planned gifts, include being consistent in donating over time, having no children, having given the greatest amount ever donated in any one year in life, having consistency in reporting a funded trust, being female, having wealth, being unmarried, the amount of donation in the year of the final survey, having a growing trajectory of wealth leading up to death and having consistency in volunteering. Several key factors that are predictive show constant behavior across many years. If people are engaged and aware of your organization, the greater the chances of supporting your organization through a planned gift.
With respect to being a major organizational donor, IPM Advancement notes that major donors tend to have the following characteristics: placing a premium on personal relationships, building trust through relationships, being a baby boomer that is wealthy and generous, having donors volunteer for your organization, and being a woman as they are more generous than men.
It is also important to have satisfying communications with your organization, donors that can relate to your social media, having the ability to measure donations as investments in your organization, witnessing transparency within your nonprofit, seeking ways to stand out from the nonprofit crowd, capturing donors’ attention, developing campaigns, and having strategies that have long-term positive results.
Donor Search points out that 88% of all nonprofit funding is derived from 12% of your major donors. Because of the pandemic, nonprofits must pivot to stay alive and thrive. Look at your donor list in descending order by amount given. You need to prioritize your relationships with them. Make sure you constantly communicate and appreciate your major donors.
Focus on recognition, prospect screening, direct mail cultivation, planned giving potential, starting a major donor society, hiring staff to focus on major donors, hosting events designed to acquire major donors, using your board to connect with others, constantly examining performance, and asking major donors to volunteer. Examine major donor metrics and return on investment (ROI), integrating matching gifts into your fundraising process and understanding major and planned gift cultivation takes time.
Utilize information wisely as you transition your major donor program from identification to cultivation and solicitation. Candid notes that you need to be strategic by segmenting your database, studying past giving trends, analyzing real estate ownership, and utilizing your board. Focus on consistent donors who have been giving at higher-than-average size and rate. Look for consistent giving in terms of number of years of giving and size of gifts.
Seek to find out donor past giving to your organization and other nonprofits. Look for donors first who have made $5,000 and higher annual gifts to your institution. Realize that real estate ownership is an important predictor of philanthropy. Look at Zillow, Trulia and your County Tax Assessor’s site. Ask board members to open doors for major gift prospects and ask board members to give first, especially if they have major gift potential of their own.
The Giving Institute provides several identifiers of a high-quality fundraising prospect. When looking for major and planned gift donors, search for three major characteristics. The first represents past contributions to your organization. This is the best predictor of future giving. Look for recency, frequency and monetary contribution. Look for how often the donor has contributed, when was the last gift, and how much was given to your institution.
The second characteristic is real estate ownership as this variable can show high net worth. If you own $2 million or more in property value, you are 17 times more likely to make philanthropic gifts. The third characteristic is political giving. Making a large gift to a political campaign means this type of gift can also be made to your nonprofit. This method of giving also shows mission focus that your organization can relate to in dramatic fashion. If a donor has given more than $2,500 cumulatively to federal political campaigns, they are 14 times more likely to give to charity than the average donor.
Your fundraising success depends upon your ability to research donor characteristics. Understand what factors separate potential annual, major and planned gift donors. Also, realize through characteristic analysis, prospects can also make significant blended gifts to your organization. Attempt to find out how people give whether it is cash, check, stocks, bonds, real estate, personal property or other means.
The more knowledgeable you are about an individual’s linkage, ability and inclination to give to your nonprofit, the more success will come your way. Find out what the donor is interested in, how they like to communicate, who is the gift decision maker, and how much the ask should be. Take several factors into consideration when making the ask. This process will take time and the results will be well worth the wait!
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy.