Donor Speak

We’re always so busy telling prospects and donors about us—our good works, our success, the things we need—we too often forget to ask them about themselves.  We especially forget to ask our supporters for anything other than a gift.  And no shock here, being constantly asked for money tires donors and gives them that infamous “donor fatigue.” A simple request to your donors to “Tell me about your experience with us,” can turn that tiredness into energy, especially if you are truly willing to hear their answer and respond appropriately.

As my friend Debbi Winter is fond of saying, “Fundraising is all about relationships.” And relationships are not a one-way street.  They take time and effort, but when they work, the time and the effort seem very small prices to pay.

So how do you build a bond with your donors?  It’s not much different than how you go about building a friendship.  You spend time together; look for areas of commonality; see where your interests intersect. You tell them about you, you find out about them.  It’s a give and take in which you both give and get something of value.  Only here, instead of you as an individual it is you as part of an organization.

When I was a young teenager, just starting to date, my mother used to remind me that I shouldn’t dominate the conversation.  I should, she would say, let my date talk and then try to focus on things that would be of interest to him.  While I didn’t appreciate that advice then, now it makes some sense.

Donors, like dates, can get pretty frustrated if it is all about you and your organization.  Learn to talk with them rather than at them.  Find out why they care about you—you may be amazed at what you find out.  In fact, a great cultivation tool is to call a donor and simply ask them to tell you about their experiences with your organization and what you do that makes them care.

We spend too much time trying to craft messages, taglines, elevator speeches, and not enough listening to what our donors tell us.  Or as an old Turkish proverb states:  “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.”

Janet Levine is a consultant, trainer and writer who works with nonprofit and educational organizations helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Find out more at