For those of your colleagues responsible for current operating and program support, we focus on discretionary income. Estate giving is different. It almost always comes from donors who have been engaged in support of operations and programs, but it doesn’t come from current income. It comes from wealth.
Among the useful data that comes from the Census Bureau are measures of wealth by household characteristics. If you go to www.census.gov/people/wealth/ you can find more data than you’ll ever need or want. Below is a selection of data excerpted with a planned giving fundraiser’s eye to where the veins of gold lie in one’s donor base.
These are general population data. The chances are any given donor base looks much wealthier, as we have repeatedly seen in research studies. But it’s the profile that is important.
We’ve shown over and over again that the principle demographic factors influencing all giving — current or deferred — are, in order of importance, age, education, household characteristic, and residence ownership and tenure.
By household characteristic is meant whether or not there is a committed couple. The Census — at least for 2010 — used the then-conventional definition of “married couple.” And it provides home ownership without length of community residence. Nonetheless, the distinctions in wealth shown between household with married couples and those headed by singles and between those where the householder owns or rents are telling.
I have indexed the selected data to the base, overall net worth numbers, again to underscore that it is the profile, not the dollar data we should have in view when it comes to transposing this information for donor bases across varying markets and types of organizations.
The largest share of the nation’s wealth — 43% — is held by people over 65, and the next highest — 26% — is held by people 55 to 64. There’s nothing wrong with having a mature donor file!