5 Trends with the Power to Change Major Gift Fundraising

Read Time: 5 minutes

Major gift work is demanding. As a frontline fundraiser, you need to stay laser-focused on donors to build relationships, meet goals, and fund vital programs. It’s difficult to take a step back and look at the big picture—but that context can make you a better fundraiser.

How is the sector changing? What developments are impacting who gives and how they show their generosity? Do we need to change the way we raise money in response?

We distilled five of the most important trends shaping the fundraising landscape into a quick overview for our busy audience. Read on for our roundup, plus one strategy per trend to help you adapt. 


Trend #1: As broad-based giving declines, organizations depend more on a small group of wealthy donors.

The share of Americans making charitable contributions dropped over 13% between 2000 and 2016, according to Changes to the Giving Landscape.[1] While this is not a measure of Americans’ overall generosity, the decline in participation is a troubling trend for the nonprofit sector as a whole.

So why haven’t we seen drastic declines in total giving since 2000? High-net-worth individuals have been stepping up their philanthropy. Gilded Giving 2018 reported that wealthy donors have been giving significantly more over the past decade, and mega-gifts are increasingly common.[2]

How to adapt:

Invest in a mid-level giving program. Make sure you’re creating a strong pipeline from your annual fund to major giving. This means a customized strategy for donors who fall somewhere in the middle.

Learn more: The Essential Building Blocks for Growing Your Mid-Level Giving Program


Trend #2: Data and qualification techniques have been increasing in importance.

As broad-based philanthropy declines, identifying and qualifying major donors is also becoming more important. At Campbell & Company, we’ve observed more and more organizations focusing on the beginning of the donor cycle, especially as more frequent campaigns become a consistent element of the environment.

How to adapt:

To support identification, invest in routine wealth screenings and capacity analyses and use this information to feed your qualification efforts. Qualifying major donors works best when you design a clear framework, including training staff, developing call scripts, capturing information in your database, and tracking your efforts.

Learn more: Building a Major Gift Qualification Plan: A How-To-Guide


Trend #3: There’s a growing need to communicate your impact to a sophisticated donor base.

Over 75% of millennials will stop giving to an organization if they aren’t told the impact of their gifts—that's according to The Millennial Impact Report: 10 Years Looking Back.[3] Outcomes are clearly important to younger generations, but anecdotally, we see the relentless focus on outcomes in other age groups, as well. Donors want to understand how their gifts are moving the needle on your mission.

How to adapt:

There are so many in-depth ways to share impact, from polished slide decks to glossy annual reports. Those efforts are important, but we recommend keeping your major donors informed in less formal ways, too. Try recording regular video updates that show the impact of a donor’s passion project. These can be a minute or less and filmed on a smartphone.


Trend #4: Donor demographics are changing, and we must respond accordingly.

From millennials, women, and people of color to the LGBTQ community and all the intersections in between, a one-size-fits-all approach to fundraising won’t cut it. The nonprofit world is waking up to this reality: studies suggest that we need a more customized approach to building philanthropic support if we want to engage a diverse, inclusive donor base.

Research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute indicates that women have distinct giving patterns and are more likely to give than men.[4] The Apparitional Donor: Understanding and Engaging High Net Worth Donors of Color reports that “the philanthropic practices of communities of color are distinctly different from one another and are, in highly significant ways, unlike the philanthropy of white HNW donors.”[5]

How to adapt:

Evaluate how well your messaging resonates with your various donor segments. Both one-on-one conversations and donor surveys can help you gain a deeper understanding of your donors’ motivations and priorities.

Within your organization, prioritize the diversity of your staff and board. Both groups should reflect the diversity of your community and the people you want to reach.

Learn more: Women & Philanthropy podcast series


Trend #5: We as fundraisers need to embrace innovative cultivation and stewardship tactics.

In Time and Money: The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy, 50% of volunteers reported giving more monetary support because they volunteer. [6]

It’s no longer enough for donors to simply write a check. They want to know how their dollars are going to make difference before they make the gift, and they want to experience the impact of their giving by seeing the work up close.

Bottom line? They want to take part in helping your organization achieve its mission.

How to adapt:

Focus on providing a range of meaningful volunteering opportunities and other ways for donors to see your work first-hand. Volunteering can function as both a cultivation and a stewardship tactic for what are some of your most dedicated supporters.

These five trends have the power to change how we raise major gifts, but they just scratch the surface of today’s evolving giving landscape. If you want to discuss any of these topics in more depth, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at christina.yoon@campbellcompany.com or leave a comment below.

[1] https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/1805/21217/vanguard-charitable191022.pdf

[2] https://inequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Gilded-Giving-November-2018-FINAL.pdf

[3] http://www.themillennialimpact.com/latest-research

[4] https://philanthropy.iupui.edu/doc/institutes/wpi-research-overview2019.PDF

[5] https://thevaidgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/FinalAppDonreport4.17.pdf

[6] https://www.fidelitycharitable.org/content/dam/fc-public/docs/insights/volunteering-and-philanthropy.pdf

Nonprofit Trends, Fundraising Tips, Fundraising, Blog

Christina Yoon

Christina “Tina” Yoon, Vice President and Director, East Region is a dedicated nonprofit professional who uses her broad experience when advising other nonprofits but brings a fresh perspective to each client engagement. She listens carefully to her clients’ needs and develops customized solutions.