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The 7 Nonprofit Donor Types: A Guide for Communications and Outreach

By August 2, 2017July 24th, 2023Donor Outreach, Nonprofit Start-Up Toolkit
eleo nonprofit 7 nonprofit donor types

In 1994, Russ Alan Prince and Karen Maru File conducted a study-turned-book that identified The Seven Faces of Philanthropy, or nonprofit donor types. This framework has become a must-read for nonprofits looking to better understand who their donors are and improve their communication strategies and techniques.

Remember, these people aren’t just names you dug up from your donor management system. Each individual is unique with their own core beliefs and priorities that motivate them to support certain organizations. If you take a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging donors, you might save some time and money, but you may risk leaving money on the table.

For example, if you talk about tax deductions with someone who gives because they feel it’s the right thing to do, how do you think that message will be received?

By listening for clues from donors, grouping them into seven basic categories, and tailoring your approach accordingly, you can forge a stronger bond with each donor and dramatically increase support for your nonprofit. Here are those seven donor types in alphabetical order.

1) The Altruist. “Do the Right Thing” is more than just a movie for this donor, and they don’t care about the credits. Altruists just care about helping without fanfare or recognition. Engage them further with hands on experiences in your nonprofit.

2) Communitarian. Civic responsibility to the community matters most, whether that community is based on geography, race, generation or another common characteristic. Explain how that community will benefit from the donor’s support.

3) Devout. We’re talking commitment, not religion – although it could involve commitment to a religion. Devout donors give because of their strong belief in a group or cause and the desire to align with fellow devotees. Recognize their devotion with a meaningful encounter such as a private meeting with a leader in your organization.

4) Dynast. Giving is a family tradition. It’s in their blood and has been for generations. Dynasts give not only to support the cause, but to contribute to a legacy of giving. Acknowledge the history, not just the current donor.

5) Investor. What are the tax and estate implications? What’s the ROI? Is it good business? Donations are based more on calculation than moral obligation, and that’s fine. Contact them on December 1 for end-of-year-giving.

6) Repayer. It’s all about gratitude and returning the favor. Whether it’s a school, a hospital or a fireman, this donor feels a sense of loyalty or obligation to help those who have helped him or her. Focus your message on how you can deliver a similar outcome to others.

7) Socialite. Lights, camera, donate! The socialite shows up for gala fundraisers and dominates the Facebook photos. Even better, they’re rainmakers because they bring friends and family, i.e., more donors. Give them the attention they’ve earned by thanking them publicly.

Keep in mind that nobody’s personality and motivations are any more right or wrong than the next person. Every type of donor is valuable. Get to know your donors. Use that knowledge to categorize them in your donor management system. Then customize your outreach to achieve the best results.