How to Talk to Wealthy People

Middle Aged Female

I’ve been in planned giving and major gifts marketing for 20 years, and I consistently come across fundraisers who are intimidated by wealthy people.


Our surveys show between 26% – 41% of fundraisers have a blind spot when it comes to wealth.


I don’t blame them. Our culture has a lot of weird taboos about money. Americans don’t like to talk about money — or at least we hate to talk about how much money we make. It seems the more money people have, the quieter they are about it. Maybe we are confused, and think our net worth is tied to our self-worth. Or maybe we just don’t want to make anyone else feel bad.

But it’s ironic, isn’t it? Every fundraiser has a fantasy about meeting that wealthy donor and landing that mega gift. Yet many of those same fundraisers are scared to talk to those wealthy donors.

If you’re intimidated by, or do not like, “rich people,” I have some bad news: You will not land that record-breaking donation. But here’s some good news for you:

Rich People Are Just People

In fact, most millionaires don’t even consider themselves rich. Ameriprise Financial surveyed 3,000 affluent Americans, including 700 millionaires. When asked how they classify their economic status, only 13% of the millionaire respondents defined themselves as wealthy.

So there you go: No need to feel intimidated. (Also, let’s never forget that the best planned giving prospects are often not the “wealthy” prospects.)

No matter what their income level, your marketing approach to major and planned giving prospects should always involve:

  • Face-to-face conversations
  • Good questions
  • More listening than talking on your part (hard to do)
  • Oversimplified messaging

Remember, the only difference between a “rich person” and a “not so rich” person is the way they think about and manage their money. For example, they are more responsible in planning a will. You can either learn from them, or you can ignore them. But you should at least learn to like them and understand the true measure of wealth.

By the way, you should also decide what constitutes “rich” to you and your nonprofit. According to the IRS, the top 1% earners make an average of $464,000 a year. But when I asked a group of fundraisers in a class at an AFP event to define “what is rich?” half the class raised their hands for over $50 million a year.  Granted, $464,000 is a lot of money, but there’s a mountain of difference between that and $50 million! (Measure an inch high on your desk, and now measure 100 inches high.)

In short, learning about wealth should be part of your practice!


Trick Question: What’s the difference between a million and a billion?

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