Major donors want to give more than NGOs expect

Published by Vera Peerdeman on

Good news for major gift fundraisers: major donors feel (way) more engaged than NGOs think. Apart from giving money, major donors want to invest their time in, and share their network with, NGOs. Also, the group of (prospective) major donors is a lot larger than expected. These are some (of many) interesting results of the study Philanthropy in the Netherlands (Filantropie in Nederland), which was published on the 19th of November.

Philanthropy in the Netherlands is a nationwide study, which started with an online questionnaire in June 2015. Over 1300 respondents took part in this study: more than 700 major donors (at least €1000 per donation) and almost 600 representatives of NGOs. In order to gather more in-depth information, the online study was complemented with in depth interviews with 20 major donors and 20 NGOs.



I’d like to share 5 interesting insights with you:

1. Not necessarily millionaires
fin2Maybe you recognize this: a lot of NGOs think of millionaires when they think of major donors. This is not a crazy idea, of course. In order to give big, you’ve got to have money. In theory. Practice shows some interesting insights. When analysing the results of the participating major donors, we found that 60% of the respondents were not millionaires. Even more interesting was that almost half of the group had an annual income below €100,000. The size of the heart is as important (or even more) as the size of the wallet. The study confirms this: about 75% of the participating major donors indicated to have volunteered at an NGO in the past year.

Being the smart fundraiser that you are, I’m sure this make you see the significant potential that hides behind these results. Way more people than most fundraisers expect have the potential to be major donors.

2. Major donors want to give more
fin3Almost all major donor respondents stated that they felt engaged with the NGOs they supported. This was more than NGOs expected: they thought that approximately 70% of the major donors felt engaged. Even more interesting is the willingness to give more. More than 60% of the major donors said they want to give more than just money, whilst NGOs think this applies to only 40%. Apart from their donations, 60% of the major donors are willing to give their time (NGOs think this applies to less than 30%), and 55% are willing to share their network with the NGOs they support (NGOs think only 40% are willing to do this).

Another interesting chance for fundraisers: not only is the size of the group of (prospective) major donors bigger than expected, the potential per major donor is too.

“I can arrange things for organizations that can be useful to them. I can help to influence others, or to get them in contact with interesting people. I’m a bit of a meddler. Most NGOs like that. Or at least, none of them has ever stopped me.”  – major donor (participant of qualitative research)

3. For major donors, it’s all about the mission
Most major donors prefer to be in contact with programme managers and/or other co-workers who represent the ‘mission’ of a NGO. The larger the gift, the larger this preference. NGOs on the other hand, think that most major donors want to be in contact with major gift fundraisers and/or the CEO. When NGOs were asked to make a ranking of people they think major donors want to be in contact with, the programme manager came only in 4th place. Being in contact with the major gift fundraisers (or: relationship manager) was ranked in 2nd place by major donors. They do appreciate it if they have one fixed contact person at a NGO. They expect this person to help them think of the best way to donate, to follow up on their specific preferences and to help them learn more about the NGOs mission.

Interesting to find out is: how good is the relationship between your (major gift) fundraiser(s) and your programme manager(s)? Is it easy to involve the latter in the relationship with major donors?

“Sometimes it’s difficult to involve my colleagues at the programme department. Although they won’t say it out loud, I notice they think it’s a bit scary to be in contact with ‘the money’.” – Fundraiser (participant of qualitative research)

4. Don’t call us, we’ll call you
About 75% of the participating NGOs think that major donors give because they were approached by the NGO. Major donors think differently about this. More than half of them say they approach NGOs themselves. They proactively search for organizations that meet their philanthropic mission, wishes and goals.

fin4When it comes to thanking the major donor, NGOs prefer to contact major donors by phone. This is especially so for the larger NGOs, where more than 70% indicated to use the phone to express thanks for the major gift. Major donors on the other hand, prefer to be thanked via invitations for events at which they can meet the people that represent the ‘mission’ of the NGO. Only 5% of the major donors appreciate a ‘thank-you-call’. During the qualitative research, we found that this also has to do with a misunderstanding on the major donor’s side. They often confuse a ‘thank-you-call’ from a major gift fundraiser, for a call from a telemarketer.

5. Definition of ‘personal contact’
What we also learned, is that major donors and NGOs have different interpretations of ‘personal contact’. NGOs interpret this as ‘one-to-one’ contact. They therefore chose to contact them by phone (also see 4.) and try to set up a meeting at the donor’s home or office. Although major donors agree it’s important to add a personal touch to the relationship, they prefer a different approach. For them ‘personal’ is much more about ‘not being seen as part of a group’. The way they interpret this varies, from ‘invite me to an event’ to ‘could you arrange a project visit for me’.

“I’m developing as a philanthropist and learn new things every day. I find it very pleasant to be in personal contact with the NGOs I support. I like it especially when they invite me for small group events. It gives me the feeling they don’t see me as an anonymous number.” – major donor (participant of qualitative research)

Learning from this, it’s good to check if your NGO services major donors with a tailor-made approach. If the answer is ‘yes’, the second question should be: are you sure what you offer is in line with the expectations of your specific major donors?

About the study
Philanthropy in the Netherlands (Filantropie in Nederland) is an initiative by Jazi Foundation and Nassau Fundraising. The study was supported by Rabobank Nederland (primary partner) and the centre for philanthropic studies of VU Amsterdam. But most importantly, the study was supported by more than 60 organizations active in the Dutch NGO sector and/or with major donors. This proves that a significant willingness of the sector to improve the relationship between major donors and NGOs, in order to create more impact together.

The Philanthropy in the Netherlands study is unique in several other ways:
● for the first time ever in the Netherlands, this study focused on major donors according to their gift level (> €1,000 per gift) instead of according to their wealth,
● the study focused on the expectations of major donors in their relationship with NGOs, rather than on giving habits,
● not only major donors, but also NGOs took part in the study and they were asked what they thought major donors expect of the relationship with NGOs, so as to be able to highlight the differences.


Vera Peerdeman

Vera wants to bridge the gap between those who give and those who receive. When speaking with donors, she notices a gap between their perceptions and expectations and those of the organizations they support. She wants to bring donors and organizations together to realize their ideals. That’s why she wrote Handbook Friendraising (Dutch). Vera is proud that people see her as a specialist in major donor fundraising. When she speaks at (inter)national seminars and congresses, she gets inspired by interacting with the fundraisers in the audience. Please feel free to call her if you’d like to talk about whether she could make a valuable contribution to your project or conference.


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