If you ask a conference full of major gift officers how to best motivate major gifts from new donors or how best to encourage increased giving from already generous donors, a significant number likely will respond that communicating how their major gift will make an impact is the way to go.
The conventional wisdom is that we aren’t raising more significant gifts from more major gifts donors because we aren’t effectively communicating the specific impacts of their gifts.
This is a convenient idea. It’s seemingly commonsensible.
The problem, though, is that it’s mostly wrong.
In study after study, it is reported that major gifts donors do not give primarily because of the specific impacts of their giving. For instance, we know that:
- during the first full year of the pandemic, approximately 75% of major donors made unrestricted gifts to nonprofits;
- even prior to the pandemic, 73.6% of wealthy donors made their largest single charitable gifts unrestricted.
So, if we know major gifts donors aren’t primarily motivated to give based on our providing them with the specific potential impacts of their gifts, what are the most compelling motivational factors?
Again, research has consistently painted a helpful picture:
- this year, a new study produced by BNY Mellon Wealth Management reported the top 2 giving motivations for major gift donors were “personal satisfaction,” and “personal connections.”
- and, prior to the pandemic, the 2018 U.S. Trust and IUPUI Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy reported interesting findings on why major gifts donors do not support a nonprofit. Specifically, the #1 reason donors gave for not supporting a nonprofit (aside from not wanting to give at all or not giving because of family responsibilities) was because they did not have a connection with the nonprofit.
The effective major gifts officer isn’t simply a communicator of impact. The effective major gifts officer is a trust builder.
The notion that major gifts won’t happen because, “we can’t tell the donor what it’s for or what impact it will make,” is simply not accurate. When we build trust-filled relationships with donors that are authentic and personal, donors respond because they believe in us.
People give to people.