The Great Divide Between Clients & Advisors: Part 2 of 3

For many years we assumed we knew what motivated people to give. Oh sure, we know it makes us feel good, but when people make BIG gifts isn’t it primarily motivated by financial and tax reasons? The answer is no. Tax benefits are an added bonus, but in the vast majority of cases NOT the primary driver for making big or small gifts.

In 2016, U.S. Trust conducted another study on philanthropy – this time focusing on the charitable preferences of wealthier donors. U.S. Trust conducts frequent studies on giving and they give us incredible insight into the minds of donors. These insights are a gigantic opportunity for both charities and advisors as we seek to guide donors and clients on a meaningful philanthropic journey.

In part 1 of this series, we explored the 2013 study on the charitable conversation between advisors and clients. It revealed the vast differences of perception, responsibility, and comfort with the topic of these two groups. Coming together around the charitable conversation is the first step in reaping the benefits for your practice and your organization.

In this edition I’ll share the giving motivations and practices of donors that I think will most helpful to YOU – as an advisor or fundraising professional and things you can do to:

1) deepen relationships, 2) gain more referrals/gifts, and 3) connect to the next generation.

FIRST, the primary reasons people give is because they:

  1. believe in the organization’s mission
  2. believe the gift can make a difference; and
  3. experience enjoyment or fulfillment

Not one of these reasons is quantifiable. We can’t add it up on a calculator or put it in a spreadsheet or an illustration.  So stop trying. First, talk to people about what difference they want to make. Then, talk to them about how best to accomplish that goal with the assets they have.

If you could help someone experience joy by making a difference for a cause they believe in, they will love you forever. That’s a bold statement, but it’s absolutely true. The bond that forms during this process is rock solid. I’ve seen it time after time. Organizations become more deeply connected with a donor and advisors make clients for life.  They’re also very likely to talk with family and friends about how you helped them. That’s the kind of PR you can’t buy, beg, borrow or steal. Let me tell you another secret – it also makes YOU feel better about your work and about yourself. Couldn’t we all use a bit more job satisfaction?

SECOND, 94% of wealthier donors want to know more about how best to give.

They want to learn:

  1. how to find a rewarding volunteer opportunity
  2. more about how organizations live out their missions; and
  3. how to talk to the next generation about their giving

Once again, these things aren’t quantifiable, so stop leading the conversation with numbers. Of course, we must eventually discuss numbers in order to give sound advice, but first we must get to the root of their motivations. People choose to act first based on emotion then second on logic. (Sorry all you Vulcans out there.)

Advisors, this is an opportunity for you to add real value to your client relationships and set yourself apart from your peers. Show them it’s not all about dollars and cents. Show them who you really are. My first tip is to get to know local community foundations. They are not only deeply connected to your community, it’s needs, and organizations – they also provide incredible service by helping donors to find answers to all three of these things. Even better – they are well-versed in working with advisors like YOU! Find a community foundation near you with the help of this handy-dandy Community Foundation Locator.

Fundraisers, this is an opportunity for you to solidify donor relationships, gain new ones, and receive more support. Connect donors to volunteer opportunities. They WANT to get involved and to see the effect of their giving. Report back to them regularly on how their gifts are helping to live out your mission. Invite them to bring family and friends to donor and volunteer events. How better to give donors a meaningful experience than to include someone they care about in the process?

My next tip is for both advisors and fundraisers to join your local planned giving council to network with organizations, develop your skills, and mingle with like-minded professionals.

THIRD, donors face 3 major challenges to their philanthropy:

  1. defining their charitable goals,
  2. understanding how much they can afford to give, and
  3. balancing volunteer time in busy lives

Helping donors and clients uncover their charitable passions can seem like a daunting and highly personal job. I won’t lie to you – it is. It is also an utterly rewarding experience and you’ll learn more about that person than you ever did before. The trouble can be starting the conversation. We will explore this in greater detail in part 3 of this series, so please stay tuned….

Helping our clients determine how much they can afford to give starts with healthy financial and estate planning. Only when we feel secure can we imagine what it would be like to turn our wealth into something that really matters to us. It is crucial that we help our clients to feel financially secure. Fundraisers – if you’re working with a donor who doesn’t have an advisor, I strongly encourage you to introduce them to some professionals that you trust. If you don’t know any, make it your mission to find some. You may even find some among the ranks of your other donors.  How’s that for affinity?

Time management is a monster of it’s own, but I will say that volunteering is that twice as many wealthy donors volunteer than the rest of the population (50% vs. 25%). One of the factors is likely that they have more time and want to spend it in a rewarding way. Since volunteering is so important to our wealthier clients, let them know where you volunteer or provide them with an easy volunteer opportunity.

In 2016, Americans gave at an all-time high. They gave away over $390 Billion! Only 5% came from corporations.* I can’t even wrap my brain around $1 Billion – let alone $390 Billion. Charitable giving continues to grow in this country and it shows no signs of slowing down. 2017 is expected to be a banner year for giving due to rising stock prices, the charitable IRA rollover, and the plan fact that people want to turn their wealth into what matters to them.  Let’s get out there and help them do it. Who knows, you might even enjoy yourself!

Stay tuned for part 3 in this series when we will explore How to Have a Meaningful Charitable Conversation.

*Giving USA 2017 Report


  1. Rebecca Otten on October 26, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Great reminders and tips — I passed it along to others.

    • Dana on October 27, 2017 at 2:09 pm

      Thank you, Rebecca!

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