Check out CEP’s new searchable database of resources for individuals and grantmakers.

Contact Us


Press Release

New CEP Research Sheds Light on What Nonprofits Need Most from Major Individual Donors

Date: September 24, 2019

Never Miss A Post

Share This Post:

Media contact: Grace Nicolette – Vice President, Programming and External Relations: (617) 674-0763

For Immediate Release

Cambridge, MA — The largest source of philanthropic support for nonprofits in the United States is giving from individual donors. Of the total charitable giving in 2018, individual donors contributed 68 percent. However, the recent decline in giving among small- and medium-gift givers means that major individual donors are becoming critically important to nonprofits.

New research released today from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) shows that nonprofits largely seek to develop stronger relationships with major individual donors, and are looking for more long term, unrestricted gifts. The report, titled Crucial Donors: How Major Individual Givers Can Best Support Nonprofits, distills insights from nearly 200 nonprofit leaders from across the country to learn what types of support nonprofits already receive from major donors, what major donors can do to support nonprofits better, and how nonprofits’ relationships with major donors differ from their relationships with staffed foundations.

Crucial Donors identifies three key findings regarding the ways in which major donors can most effectively support nonprofits: 1) Relationships matter; 2) There is an understanding gap; and 3) Nonprofits most need multiyear commitments, unrestricted gifts, and support beyond money. Our report also found that nonprofit leaders prefer to receive funding from major donors rather than from staffed foundations, as it’s easier to manage relationships with individual major donors and they provide more multiyear commitments and unrestricted gifts.

Findings in the report are based on survey responses from 198 nonprofit CEOs on CEP’s Grantee Voice panel, all of which are U.S. based and receive funding from foundations that give at least five million annually in grants. The donor perspectives were contributed by donors to respondent organizations that rated their major donors most highly across seven measures discussed in this report, such as understanding an organizations’ goals and providing repeated support. With each key finding, quotes from both nonprofit leaders and major donors are offered. This resource also includes questions to guide major donors in building relationships, addressing the understanding gap, and deciding what kind(s) of support to provide to nonprofits.

“Bridging the knowledge gap between the reality of nonprofits’ day-to-day work and challenges and a donor’s understanding of that reality is key in helping major individual givers contribute as much as possible to a nonprofit’s impact,” says Ellie Buteau, vice president, research, at CEP and one of the report’s co-authors. “We were pleased that nonprofit leaders and some of their major donors were willing to be candid about their thought processes with us, allowing others to learn from their experiences.”

While these key insights are applicable to donors of all kinds, they are particularly important for major givers as they continue to become an increasingly crucial resource for nonprofits, the report shows. In a nonprofit leader’s own words, in the coming years, “Major donors will continue to be the most important resource for nonprofits.” By learning and providing what nonprofits most need – in terms of relationships, understanding, and types of support – major donors can have an even greater impact on the issues they seek to affect.

The report is available for free download on CEP’s website.

This research was supported in part by funding from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and Raikes Foundation.

About the Center for Effective Philanthropy

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide data and create insight so philanthropic funders can better define, assess, and improve their effectiveness and impact. CEP received initial funding in 2001 and has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. For more information on CEP’s work, including its research, publications, programming, and assessments and advisory services, visit

Related Content