Nonprofit Leaders Want Deeper Relationships with Major Donors

October 14, 2019 — Nonprofit leaders want major individual donors, the biggest source of philanthropic support for nonprofits in the United States, to understand their organizations and the context of their work better than they currently do, a newly completed study found.

This and others findings were based on a study of 600 nonprofit leaders across the country on how major individual donors can best support them, developed by The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a Cambridge nonprofit that develops research on grant makers’ performance.

Key conclusions of the report included the following:
  • In the coming years, the most common trend nonprofit leaders expect to see in how their organizations will work with major donors is that they will place greater focus on building personal relationships with them.

    CEP said it believes relationships individual donors between individual donors parallels strong relationships that organizations have with foundations, in which nonprofits feel they are treated fairly by, are comfortable approaching the donor when a problem arises, find the donor to be responsive, feel that the donor has clearly communicated about goals and strategies, and feel that the donor is consistent in those communications.

  • Nonprofit leaders believe major donors, to be most helpful, need to understand their organizations and the context of their work better than they currently do.

    Developing a better understanding of a nonprofit can help major donors provide the support that the organization truly needs, and help ensure that donors and nonprofits are working together toward the same goal.

    One of the most common suggestions from nonprofit leaders is for donors to stop trying to exert too much influence on the organization, CEP reported.

  • Nonprofits most need multiyear commitments, unrestricted gifts, and support beyond money in order to do their best work and plan for the future.

    While nonprofit leaders say repeated support and transparency about the likelihood that donors will give in the future also help them plan ahead, but, CEP found: "There is a significant gap between how important nonprofit leaders say it is for major donors to provide repeated support and the extent to which they do so. More than 90% of nonprofit leaders say it is very or extremely important for major donors to provide such support, but only 59% say most or all of their organizations’ major donors do so."

    In addition, 92% of the nonprofit leaders surveyed said it is very or extremely important for major donors to provide unrestricted gifts, but only 54% said that most or all of their major donors do so.
Major donors can support nonprofits beyond providing financial support, the majority of leaders said, by donating volunteer or pro bono services—such as assistance with financial, talent, and volunteer management; legal support; general advice, skills, or services—along with fundraising assistance.

A major individual donor was defined as someone who gives $7,500 or more to an organization in a year.