The Rich Get... Poorer?

"The rich get richer, the poor get poorer."

In the United States, this has become an axiom. Well, the poor are still getting poorer -- but so are the rich!

After 30 consecutive years of growing wealthier, the rich have become poorer in the last two years. What's more, they may not regain their previous levels of wealth any time soon according to economists.

The egalitarian in me smiles at this news. And then I wonder what it means for development researchers -- and fundraisers in general.

It is no accident that the huge growth in the field of prospect research has coincided with the huge growth in the population of millionaires. That and the rise of data and technology have been the primary trends underlying the proliferation of researchers.

If indeed we are headed for a financial sea change of this sort, we must re-imagine the business of fundraising. The recent New York Times article on this raised some interesting questions about the future. Here are a few more, specific to fundraising:

  • How will a wealth shift affect major gift fundraising? Will major gift officers need to spend more time with fewer prospects? Or less time with more prospects? Which strategy is likely to yield the greatest number of dollars?
  • What will take the place of the "90-10" rule of campaigns (90 percent of the money is given by 10 percent of the donors)? Will we return to "80-20" or are we looking at "70-30"?
  • How can annual fundraisers innovate to raise revenue that might formerly have been raised by their major gift colleagues?
  • With less appreciated assets to go around, how will planned giving officers change their strategies?
  • How will development researchers remain relevant and vital without so many millionaires and billionaires to identify and qualify? Hint: the answers to the other questions on this list point the way.

Here's a few predictions for the future:

  • Annual, major and planned giving will become much more integrated.
  • Development researchers will spend more time on data mining and modeling and segmentation than on creating biographical profiles.
  • Development shops will include both traditional major gift officers who work with small groups of very wealthy donors, and hybridized annual/"special" gift officers who will manage large portfolios of prospects and will use a combination of mass market/individualized cultivation and solicitation efforts to reach their assigned prospects.
  • Smart development shops will create more opportunities for prospective donors to deepen their engagement and self-identify their interests via personalized, interactive technologies and events.