A Message in A Bottle: The Four Donors

by Steven L. Meyers, Ph.D.

I like to think about The Four Donors as if it were a forgotten fragment of a lost hagaddah, written by a philanthropist long ago, translated for our day. Whether you are a philanthropist or a fundraiser, it’s a message in a bottle, which resonates for people seeking to understand their charitable impulse. The Four Children offers a lesson on meeting people where they are and appreciating them for what they are. The Four Donors helps translate the charitable inclination into action through personalized philanthropy: finding just the right gift for the right person at just the right time. This message in a bottle seems relevant all year long, not just at Passover.

Four Donor Personalities
(from a lost haggadah)

1. The Wise Donor: This is the wise and loyal annual donor, who gives without being asked, perhaps even every year. We meet the wise donor right where they are. We thank them for the gifts they have been making. Because they give every year, they are eager to hear about ways they can increase the impact of their annual gift, even without having to change one bit their regular habit of giving at first. For instance, when they commit to a series of annual gifts, each gift in the series can have up to twenty times the impact of a solitary gift (based on a spending rate of 5%). When the time is right, they’ll want to hear about other annual donors, like them, who established bequests and achieved an impact from their gift far beyond what they might have imagined possible.

2. The Wicked Donor: This donor is not really so wicked, after all. He or she gives, but also needs to receive something in return. We meet this donor right where they are. We can suggest a new way in which they can give, through a charitable gift annuity, and be assured of receiving secure payments each year for their lifetime. As they grow more secure about their own income, they are intrigued to hear that some donors establish an annuity every year, with some having a dozen or more. Enjoying this security, a surprising number of annuitants become annual donors, by contributing some of the income they don’t need, year after year. Because they feel so invested, they are also pleased to learn that many annuity donors have made bequests, which turn out to be much larger than any gifts they could make during their lifetime.

3. The Simple Donor: With the simple donor, tradition rules and a bequest is the gift they begin and sometimes end with. They often chose the same form of giving as their parents, saying as my parent planted before me, so do I plant for my (charitable) children. We meet this donor right where they are and thank them for their gift intention, telling them that from bequests often come the largest and most significant contributions for basic research. Some bequest donors feel a need to assure themselves of the certainty of their ultimate gift, and they may seek ways to make a secure pledge of their gift. Bequest donors are so often the most ardent supporters we have, and some are only too happy to begin making a modest annual gift, to start up a scholarship during their lifetime with spending rate gifts, knowing their gift of greatest significance will come later.

4. The Naïve Donor: The naïve donor is most rare – a donor who does not know how to act on their charitable impulse. While they may be very successful financially, they may still have no idea of what a pledge is. Or, they may have inherited great wealth and feel overwhelmed now at becoming the steward of a parent’s or a sibling’s or even a child’s legacy. They may have the smartest advisors and feel a great drive to give, but have no idea about how or what, or even what to give for. That they turn to you is a great privilege. Meet this donor where they are, and listen to what is important to them, not to you. They bring a worthy challenge to help find what is most important to them, as they begin their philanthropic journey.

Steven L. Meyers, Ph.D., is Vice President, Center for Personalized Philanthropy, American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science. He can be reached at steven@acwis.org