I have been in the fundraising business for over 40 years. God has granted me opportunities to work with hundreds of organizations and I’ve been privileged to participate with them in raising multiplied millions of dollars.

There are procedures that are generally accepted in my profession that drive much of the fund-raising process. It’s a universally accepted rule that a large percentage of the money that is raised annually for nonprofits (80% or more) comes from a relatively small group of donors (often less than 20%).


Most of the strategies of professional development personnel focus on identifying the 20% of potential donors that can give the most and often at the expense of the larger majority of individuals that make up their supporting constituency. After all, it’s reasoned, we need to spend the most time and energy where we can get the most productivity.

I understand all of that and have adopted many of those strategies in our consulting relationships. But there has always been a certain uneasiness in my soul that hasn’t been soothed by the validity of traditional reasoning. We communicate in a variety of ways and it seems, by default, we have sent a message to the majority of people who need to be engaged in the work of philanthropy that there is little that they can do of any consequence.

Demographic shifts have turned the world of philanthropy upside down. The most generous generations in American history are growing older, retiring, and dying. Subsequent generations simply don’t look at philanthropy in the same way, they are “citizens of the world,” are more aware of the calamities facing the populations of the earth, are heavily engaged in getting their hands dirty in addressing them, don’t make as much money, and want to spread their “philanthropy” across a broader spectrum of charitable beneficiaries.

A monumental shift will take place. Smaller gifts are going to become increasingly important to the overall health of organizations. The quicker we realize that and incorporate in our overall development strategy ways to engage the 80% we’re liable to find ourselves on the outside looking in.

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