High Net Worth Donors and Their Impact on Major Gift Fundraising

High Net Worth Donors and Their Impact on Major Gift Fundraising

November 01, 2016 by Angela E. White, CFRE


Major gift donors are crucial for the ongoing sustainability of your nonprofit’s mission. In fact, high net worth donors often provide as much as 94% of the funds for nonprofit campaign initiatives. So, it is important that we understand their giving patterns, preferences, and motivations.Understanding High Net Worth Donor Trends.jpg

The 2016 U.S. Trust® Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy released this week is the sixth edition of the biennial study, researched by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and provides nonprofits with valuable insights on this important donor demographic. The report surveyed 1,435 U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more (excluding the value of their primary home) and/or an annual household income of $200,000 or more.

I have an upcoming webinar planned on December 7th with Una Osili, Director of Research at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and Claire Costello, Managing Director of the Philanthropic Solutions Group at U.S. Trust, to review the findings in depth and discuss how nonprofits can use this data to structure your major gift fundraising program. Please register now to join us!

In the meantime, here are 10 of the key findings from the report:

  1. High net worth Americans are exceedingly generous, with more than 91% of HNW households donating to charity in 2015, far surpassing the 59% of donors in the U.S. general population.
  2. The average gift size of HNW households ($25,509) is 10 times greater than general population households average gift ($2,520).
  3. The volunteer rate among the wealthy (50%) is double that of the general population (25%). This is an important figure, as the study found 84% of wealthy individuals donate to at least some of the organizations where they volunteer and volunteering HNW households gave 56% more than those who did not.
  4. Most HNW households intend to continue to give at this generous level in the future (55%) or even increase their giving (28%) in the next three years. Just 3% of HNW households plan to decrease their giving in the next three years.
  5. High net worth donors gave to an average of eight different charities and a variety of causes. “Basic Needs” were the charitable category supported most frequently, with 63% of HNW households having donating to those charities in 2015, followed by religious (49.6%) and health charities (40.2%).
  6. Religious and basic needs organizations received the highest share of HNW charitable dollars in 2015. Religious organizations received 36% of overall dollars given, basic needs followed at 27.9% and education received 12.4%.
  7. High net worth households were motived to give primarily because they believe in the mission of the organization (54.1%). Other top motivators were believing their gift can make a difference (44%) and personal satisfaction (39%). Only 18% of donors said they were motivated to give because they would receive a tax benefit.
  8. HNW donors indicated they believe charitable giving (45%) and volunteering (31%) have the greatest potential for positive impact on society, far above voting for a political candidate (13%) or impact investing (3%).
  9. More than half (54%) of the HNW donors indicated that they are concerned about the impact their donations may be having, and 78% indicated they don’t follow up with charities to evaluate the impact of their donation.
  10. High net worth donors envision themselves making a charitable bequest, indicating that they expect to leave 12 percent of their wealth to charities – an important beacon of future planned giving opportunities for nonprofits.