The 12 Donor Archetypes – How to Tap into Donor Identities and Generate Bigger Gifts

You Might Be Wondering Why a Fundraiser Needs to Care About Archetypes.

Fundraising is all about storytelling (and story listening).

Sometimes a fundraising story will be focused on how an organization or institution is helping make the world a better place. Other times it will be about the donor and how they found meaning through support of a cause or initiative.

In either case, telling great stories depends in part on using familiar character archetypes. After all, every great story involves characters. You wouldn’t have a story without them.

In great literature across all cultures spanning thousands of years, twelve character archetypes have emerged repeatedly. As a fundraiser, you need to understand them so you can relate to your supporters as you help to advance their personal hero stories. If this isn’t making sense, you might want to read this article about the 6 core elements of a donor’s story.

Understanding fundraising stories and the characters in them can help you appeal to your high-value donors’ natural inclinations based on their archetypes, and motivate larger, more transformational gifts.

12 Donor Archetypes.
There are twelve donor archetypes, matching those from literature (which includes films, books, plays, short stories – anything with a narrative). They are:

  1. The Jester
  2. The Lover
  3. The Caregiver
  4. The Everyman
  5. The Innocent
  6. The Ruler
  7. The Sage
  8. The Magician
  9. The Hero
  10. The Creator
  11. The Explorer
  12. The Outlaw

The diagram below connects the twelve donor archetypes to two axes – the ego-social axis and the freedom-order axis.


diagram of the 12 donor archetypes

You’ll note that each archetype has an opposite, and that these fit within their orientation along the two axes. A Creator, for example, is opposite from an Everyman, and a Creator is driven more by ego and freedom, whereas the Everyman is driven more by order and social good.

Which Two Donor Archetypes Are Naturally Philanthropic?
Only the Hero and the Caregiver donor archetypes are naturally inclined to make philanthropic gifts.

What does this mean? It means two things:

First, it means these donors are the easiest ones to win over to make donations — no matter their level of wealth. You don’t have to say much to convince them to give. However, their donations do not look the same.

Heroes want to make big change happen. They are the people who gravitate toward large, transformational gifts. You don’t have to sell them on this. One way or another, the wealthy or semi-wealthy Hero donor is going to make a major gift. You just have to help them feel like a hero in their own life story and support their process so they decide to make that gift to your organization.

Caregivers, on the other hand, tend to make smaller gifts to multiple organizations, often driven by impulse and emotion. Convincing a Caregiver to make a large gift is harder to do than for a Hero. We’ll look at three ways to do that in just a bit.

The Hero wants to make a big gift, and some are even happy to let everyone know about it, which is the ego part of some folks’ motivation. This motive isn’t necessarily about personal glory — these kinds of donors really do want to make a difference — but they also want everyone to know about it, in part because it may inspire others to do the same. Or, it may satisfy their need for notoriety.

A Caregiver is driven purely by social good, which is why they don’t care about recognition.

The second thing this means is that for some of (not all) the other ten donor archetypes, you have to find other ways to tap into their motivations and identities so they see how donating a major gift results in personal fulfillment and meaning. In other words, you must reframe the hero story and how you present the opportunity to give so it helps them see their heroism in the act of making a major gift.

I know, it can be hard to get your head around this. So, here are three examples of how to do that for the Caregiver.

3 Ways to Reframe the Caregiver Archetype to Motivate Bigger Gifts
The following three approaches apply mostly to the Caregiver archetype, because while that person is already inclined to give, they are not inclined to give larger gifts to just one organization. Here’s how to help win them over:

1. Motivate the Caregiver Using the Everyman

If you notice on the diagram above, the Everyman is very close to the Caregiver, but driven by a bit more order. They are still motivated by social good too, so you can appeal to the Everyman within the Caregiver, so to speak.

Here’s how:

By portraying the donor as a member of a community, you are showing the Caregiver that they are still making heroic decisions and gifts, but as part of a larger group. So, the Caregiver will see their gift as affecting more people, and this justifies making it larger.

The Everyman is that person who goes out to the store, the bar, or church, and everyone relates to them. They are often naturally outgoing, and they get along with everyone. They are respected, but not on a pedestal. They are ‘one of us.’

We all know people like that, and they are pretty easy to spot. But they’re not ego-centric about the fact that everyone likes them, because they just want everyone to get along. In other words – they are driven by community.

The Caregiver isn’t far from that on the wheel, so you can appeal to them using the power of community.

2. Motivate the Caregiver Using the Lover

Love is about sacrifice. You’ll note on the diagram that the Lover is on the other side of the Caregiver from the Everyman, toward the freedom axis.

By showing the Caregiver donor that their gift will honor another person or people, perhaps through a memorial or tribute gift, you are empowering their desire for social change but channeling it through the veneration of someone else.

This works especially well if the person (or people) their gift honors was also someone who fought for social change that aligns with your organization in some way.

3. Motivate the Caregiver by Amplifying the Caregiver

Lastly, you can get the Caregiver really excited about giving by showing them what a powerful example it will set.

They don’t want recognition. They will likely want to give anonymously. But if you show them how their major gift will also motivate others to give by setting an example, that will produce the social change they desire, and without drawing attention to themselves. Matching gifts are one great way to do this.

You can also ask them to share their story for why they are giving in the hope that it will inspire others to do the same.

With either of these approaches, you are connecting the Caregiver’s donation to the motivation of other people to give as well.

You can see that there is an incredible amount of value in knowing your donor archetypes. You can learn a lot more about this in the Donor Story: Epic Fundraising eCourse, with Dr. Russell James. We only open it at select times each year, so sign up now so you can get in on the next opening.

How Do You Identify Donor Archetypes?
As with almost everything in major gifts fundraising, it begins with listening.

Know the twelve archetypes well enough so that as your donors and prospects share their motives, passions, values, and worldviews, you can pick up on what drives them, as well as their perspective on the world and on other people.

A little research helps too.

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Research has found that women, for example, are more likely to fit the Caregiver archetype, and men (especially wealthy ones) are more likely to fit the Hero archetype. But even with the research, that’s still just a generalization. And, there are ten other donor archetypes too. We’ve already examined what motivates a Lover and an Everyman to give.

So let’s look at the remaining eight briefly and see how you can inspire ‘latent heroism’ to emerge for each.

Creators like to build things. They like ‘new.’ And they like being involved with design and ideation. Business entrepreneurs tend to be creators. They will be drawn to new programs, capital projects, and outreach initiatives. The more personal involvement and ownership in the process you can give them, the more they will give to support it. Consider even letting them brainstorm with your team a little.

Do you know any creators among your supporters?

A magician wants to transform reality. They like before-and-afters. They like to ‘wow’ the crowd. Magicians give big when they can see the powerful effects of their gifts. They are very close to the Hero on the ego axis. They want to be on stage. Let them speak or entertain at your events.

Do you know any magicians among your supporters?

Rulers tend to give when they have a say in the organization. Thus, a ruler who wants to help will often be suited for a role on your board. Give them some authority, and their big gifts will follow. Just don’t give them too much power!

Know any rulers among your supporters?

Outlaws sit on the opposite end of the freedom-order axis from Rulers. They like to rebel against the system, against ‘the way things are always done,’ against perceived oppressors, real or imagined. Give them opportunities to spur big social or systemic changes, and do away with business as usual, and they will be all in with a big gift.

Do you know any outlaws among your supporters? They are usually great advocates or they’ll support advocacy efforts.

Explorers are comfortable giving even when there is no guaranteed result. They make great donors for medical research, science, education, and programs built around discovery. They are near the freedom axis, and they don’t mind giving money and letting the organization use it as needed.

Have you got any explorers among your supporters?

A donor with a Sage archetype will be drawn to educational, mentoring, sports, and religious organizations. They want to spur the next generation to a better life and better decisions. They want to empower, to facilitate, to coach. They also are helpful because they may help fellow supporters make their giving decisions. In other words, they might help you solicit other major donors.

We’ll talk more about sages in a moment. Do you know any sages among your supporters?

An Innocent sits very close to the order axis. They follow the rules, and are faithful, obedient, and trusting. If someone convinces them that helping is important, they will help. But they won’t want a bunch of recognition. Innocents do well when giving from blind trusts and with planned gifts.

Do you recognize any innocents among your supporters?

Jesters also sit near the freedom axis. They are opposite the Sage, because Jesters don’t like to listen to advice. But they do love a good performance. Jesters are drawn to big events and demonstrative displays. They like things like the ice bucket challenge, where you do crazy things to raise money.

Used well, a Jester can really liven up your fundraising events, and can make transformational gifts fun through matching grants that are connected to gamification.

Have you witnessed any jesters among your supporters?

What About ‘Fundraiser Archetypes’?
We’ve looked at donor archetypes, but what about fundraiser archetypes? You may also donate to causes, but as a gift officer or other type of fundraiser, you are devoting most of your efforts to helping others make transformational gifts.

You are a Sage.

Look in literature at the most memorable, most effective, most powerful Sages. They bring out the very best in their students, pupils, apprentices, disciples, and yes, padawans. (That’s you, Obi Wan).

As a fundraiser, you would do well to study the Sage archetype, and learn how to improve your understanding and application of its most powerful methods and techniques.

Effective Sages are not afraid to challenge a donor – but they also know when to make that challenge. They know when the donor is ready. They also aren’t bothered by rejection, and they know that one rejection isn’t forever. Sages understand what the best salesmen understand, that you often have to ask multiple times before a person decides to give, or buy.

In fact, according to Dr. Russell James’ research, one fundraiser analyzed 1,000 gift officers, and found that 20% of them brought in 75% of the total dollars given.

Top 20% of fundraisers equal 75% of the dollars given

Why? Because they boldly challenged donors to give at their full capacity, whereas the bottom 80% tended to ask for only 40% of donor capacity.

A Sage listens, understands the donor’s archetype, and works to activate it to produce transformational gifts that result in meaning, fulfillment, and satisfaction for everyone involved.

You are a Sage. Learn how to perform your role at the highest level.

The best possible way to become an elite-performing Sage is to take the Donor Story: Epic Fundraising eCourse with Dr. Russell James. There, you will learn much more about archetypes, advancing the donor story, what motivates people to give big gifts, brain science, fundraising experimental data, questions to ask and why they work, and so much more.

It is the single best fundraising course on major gifts. And it will transform how your entire team operates. That’s why we make it possible for your whole team to take the course.

Sign Up for Donor Story: Epic Fundraising


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