What We Can Learn From Megadonors

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A toolkit for enriching donor communications.

We’ve been hard at work finding new ways to listen to donors, especially donors who live their lives far outside the typical experience: the ultra-wealthy, globally connected, wide-minded megadonors. We analyzed the Giving Pledge letters, news, and press releases about philanthropic giving, and biographical data about high net worth philanthropists to build five new Megadonor Archetypes. These Archetypes can help communicators guide and shape narratives for their organizations that resonate powerfully with influential, game-changing supporters. Here’s where to start.

Think expansively about the experiences that shaped them and the motivators that drive them.

Evaluate your message set against the Archetypes—and add to the set if you notice any gaps.

Archetypes respond differently to opportunities framed in certain ways. Use the Field Guide to The New Megadonor Archetypes to guide your thinking, and work toward expressing your organization’s vision and opportunities using language and narratives that would resonate with each Archetype. You’ll streamline your processes and improve your responsiveness to donors when your team is equipped with a complete toolkit of message translations.

Review your public-facing story from an outsider’s point of view.

Would a good-fit prospect newly learning about your organization perceive you as trusted and expert? Would they see your voice in conversations they care about? What impressions would a donor’s family and peers take away from your public-facing story—that is, what brand personality are you asking your donor to affiliate with? Do your gift announcements and donor stories portray one style of giving, or a variety?

Invest in your brand.

As you shape communications about a specific opportunity with your donors and prospects in mind, remember that your prospects are media consumers, too. They will be absorbing other messages about your organization through all of the public-facing channels where you are present (or absent, as the case may be). What you say about the opportunity and your institution must be backed up by what they read and watch on your website, in your social channels, via print vehicles, and in earned media.

Deepen your relationships.

Approach your donor conversations with a hypothesis in mind about the Archetype that most closely corresponds to the way you’ve seen that prospect behave. Use these 16 Questions—and add your own ideas to the list—to invite prospects to reflect on things that matter to them, and brief your communications team about what you learn. Consider assigning an Archetype attribute to individual donor records that can be dovetailed with custom Archetype-specific strategies and substantive, curated direct communications.

Think about fit.

For some organizations, accommodating certain donor styles would entail changing your organizational culture. The Field Guide to The New Megadonor Archetypes may be useful in guiding internal conversations about fit.

Think about Archetypes when briefing your communications team about a prospect.

The goal isn’t to pigeonhole your prospect, but to think expansively about the experiences that shaped them and the motivators that drive them. Who has been influential in their life, and why? Whom do they hope to influence? What changes has this person lived through—or created—and how do they reflect on those changes? How do they talk about their upbringing? When they talk about the source of their wealth, do they attribute it to fate, hard work, smart choices, or some combination? What do they consider “proof” a gift has been successful? Use these questions to guide your communications plan.

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