The Faces of Philanthropy: Are They Changing?

The list below was an attempt by Forbes Magazine to capture the “faces of philanthropy” way back in 1994. It’s interesting because it is from a time when trust in institutions was higher and when a larger percentage of households made annual philanthropic contributions. For someone who was practicing then, it seems largely true though a bit simplistic about donors’ motivations and the labels applied to them.

The fact that donors are animated by different purposes does explain why theories of fundraising abound. Those who stage galas find ample numbers of “socialites” to attend them conclude that events are the key to fundraising success. Those who raise money for elite schools or iconic cultural institutions find success in working with “dynasts” and conclude that emphasizing obligation is a winning strategy. Those fundraising for hospitals or beloved colleges are convinced that tapping into gratitude worked best. Indeed, some of those strategies work well some of the time for some donors, but which worked best for most donors most of the time, and over time?

Are these still the faces of philanthropy? What is changing? What new faces would you add? What words best describe them?

Which of the faces are most generous over time and therefore most worthy of our attention?

I’d say it’s the serious face – approximately one-third of all donors who give generously within their means, religiously, year after years, to multiple organizations. They continue to give despite the state of economy or how favorable the tax code is to charitable deductions. They believe in the best of human nature and invest to improve the human condition according to their belief systems. They can be found among religious and secular donors and to all causes and purposes. They represent all genders, races, color, creeds, ideologies and sexual orientations.

They don’t fall for gimmicks. They don’t need to be humored or entertained. They want to get down the business of trying to make a difference. They’re not grim. They enjoy fun but fun isn’t what makes them run. They want to be engaged in straight talk about tough issues, work on plans together, and invest in the best designed experiments.

Earning their interest and keeping their trust is, by far and away, the best use of our time. They are the faces we cannot afford to ignore or forget.

The Seven Faces of Philanthropy

“The Seven Faces of Philanthropy.” Forbes 1994

  1. Communitarians: Doing good just makes sense to make a community a better place.
  2. Devout: Doing God’s will by sharing blessings with others.
  3. Investors: They see giving as good business by helping wise nonprofits.
  4. Socialites: Helping nonprofits by having a good time.
  5. Altruists: They give out of a sense of moral imperative.
  6. Repayers: They give out of a sense of gratitude.
  7. Dynasts: Those that inherit wealth and are expected to support nonprofits.


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 


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Michelle Harder
Michelle Harder
1 year ago

The seven faces of philanthropy is an entire book by Prince & File…not a list from Forbes.

1 year ago

Thank you, Michelle. Here’s a link to buy the book that the Forbes article references:

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