A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

7 Types of Successful Philanthropists

By now, it is safe to assume that at least one person in the philanthropic industry has advised you that achieving your funding goals is greatly based on your ongoing funder-fundee relationship…and they are right.

But truly understanding the type of funder you are, and matching with similar-minded nonprofit leadership, is one of the most important fundamental building blocks to enabling mission success and satisfaction.

Most of us already do this in our personal lives, so why not make this common practice in our philanthropy?

As nonprofit development consultants, we find ourselves creating profiles on funders in order to give our clients a better understanding of the types of individual funders and decision-makers at foundations they are attempting to engage. This in turn aids in the narrowing and refining of both those they should be engaging and how to best engage them.

Take a moment and reflect on which type(s) of philanthropist you are.

Percentages given represent the percentage of the overall funding population that identifies as each type.

Communitarian – Doing Good Makes Sense (26%)
  • Believes that doing good in the community makes good business sense.
  • What is good for business contributes to their personal success.
  • Thinks philanthropy is an exchange; a better way to get things done than through government.
  • Has the desire to give rather than feels it is an obligation.
  • Tends to believe in the institution they give to and usually wants to establish a long-term relationship. Likes to be involved and have some control.
  • Usually likes recognition and public acknowledgment.
Devout – Doing Good Is God’s Will (21%)
  • Feels it is God’s will to do good; 96% of their giving is to religious purposes.
  • They usually have faith in the leadership of the institution. Feels it is their moral obligation to give and God’s desire that they help others.
  • Giving is an act of stewardship.
  • They do not care about recognition.
Investor – Doing Good Is Good Business (15%)
  • The investor says that doing good is good business. They are very careful about investigating the organizations they give to. They look for measurable returns.
  • View philanthropy as a business relationship. They are highly motivated to avoid taxes.
  • They feel no moral imperative, and they are very skeptical of altruistic people.
  • They do not really want to get too actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. However, attention and respect are very important issues to them.
  • You would never assign an Investor to interact with a Devout or Altruist or vice versa.
Socialite – Doing Good Is Fun (11%)
  • The Socialite likes having fun in their funding work, and that is the main reason they get involved. They like to be creative, especially in planning social events.
  • Their view of philanthropy is that it is a social exchange. The selection of the organizations they work with is purely a social decision. They feel that the organizations are the right place for them and their family.
  • They look for formal recognition and love to be honored. They are influenced by the social implication of their work and contributions.
Repayer – Doing Good in Return (10%)
  • They feel that they are doing good because the organization has already given them something special. They likely have had a life changing experience with the organization.
  • They are very focused in their giving.
  • The effectiveness and service delivery are very important to them.
  • They sometimes have low involvement in the organization.
  • They give on an emotional level. They do not look for recognition.
Altruist – Doing Good Feels Right (9%)
  • This is the group that the Investor does not really believe are real. They give because they believe it is the right thing to do. They are genuinely selfless. They almost always focus on social issues.
  • They believe that the wealthy have a greater obligation to give. By and large they are not influenced by others.
  • They like to know the leadership of an organization. They seek respect rather than recognition from an organization.
Dynast – Doing Good Is a Family Tradition (8%)
  • They usually come from affluent families. They grew up in families where there is a tradition of giving. Their parents talk about it around the dining room table. They often have a family foundation.
  • Interestingly, there is often a generational difference in the organizations they give to. They often do not follow family tradition in the causes they support.
  • They are the most selective type of philanthropist. They really do their homework. They focus on the core mission of the institution and how well the organization is doing implementing their mission.
  • They look to experts for advice. They work with tax advisors, lawyers, and CPAs.
  • They believe that philanthropy is much better than government in getting things done.
  • They often support non-traditional institutions. They can be very interested in the economically disadvantaged.
  • They want minimal recognition.

Don’t keep secrets; be overt about who you are and your funding goals.

Not only will you attract more of the type of funding opportunities you are looking for (and reduce the opportunities you are not looking for), but you will also educate nonprofit leadership how to optimize your relationship going forward.

Whether it is evaluating a potential grant application or new relationship, or reevaluating your outbound messaging or overall mission, being self-aware of your motivations and what will make you or your foundation satisfied is an easy first step to immediately improve your funding experience.

See also a report by Exponent Philanthropy’s Platinum Sustaining Partner Foundant Technologies, which describes four funder types in terms of approach to monitoring impact and outcomes >> 

Patrick Sampson is the CEO of Cogeo, a consultancy that provides organizational advice and development services to nonprofits to optimize their efficiency and long-term sustainability.

A special thanks to Russ Alan Prince and Karen Maru File for authoring The Seven Faces of Philanthropy: A New Approach to Cultivating Major Donors. Some content for this article was derived from concepts presented in this book.


  1. Prakash kr

    Thanks for the informative post.

  2. Nicole Latta

    Thank you for the clarification and guidance. It is helpful for anyone that is looking forward to becoming Philanthropist.

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