Think like a donor

My days are spent working with nonprofits, helping them to identify and implement ways to get new donors, keep old ones, move all donors up the fundraising pyramid, and help a select group of donors to make additional gifts.  The focus is always on being donor centric, making sure the donor is at the heart of everything they do. We look at the process of fundraising:  Prospecting, Cultivating, Stewarding, and, of Course, Asking.  People, I remind my clients, don’t give unless they are asked.  BUT, and it is a very important but, that doesn’t mean you have to ask and ask and ask and then ask again. As a donor, I’ve been, frankly, appalled, at how often the organizations I give to ask me for another gift.  Often before they thank me for what I’ve just done.  Equally often along with the thank you for the gift I’ve just made.

As a fundraiser, that seems to make sense.

We all know that he best prospect is an existing donor—someone who has shown you that what you do matters to them.  But let’s get real—that’s only true if you treat your donors well.  And that 60% or more first time givers to an organization never make a second gift to that organization, it is clear we are not treating our donors well.

For a moment, take off your fundraising hat.  And now, think like a donor.  What, when you make a gift to an organization that is NOT the one for whom you toil, makes you feel that you have done a smart thing?

It’s not, I’ll venture, that they send you a newsletter.  Or send an impersonal invitation to some event.  And I’m pretty sure that it’s not because they held out their hand again, asking you support even something you care passionately about once again—and so soon after your first gift.

No.  It’s when they show you what you and your gift did.  Or helped to do.  It when you learn how what they do and what you care about has real and positive impact.  And it especially is when they make you feel like an insider, an important part of the work that matters so much to you.

How you do that will depend on who you are—and who your donors are.  Local organizations will reach out in different ways than national or international ones.  Small ones will do different things than larger ones.  Your cause may dictate certain do’s and don’t.  Your culture may prescribe others.

Going online and searching “stewardship” is not a bad way to start, but the way one organization takes care of its donors may not resonate with yours (and, truth to tell, it may not even resonate with theirs!).

Don’t sit at your desk and write a plan that makes sense to you, the person responsible for raising the money.  Ask your donors what matters to them.  Ask them what was the best thank you they ever got from a nonprofit (and what was the worst).  What kinds of recognition make them happy.  What is it that keeps them connected.

And think about yourself as a donor—what is it that an  organization does that keeps you being a donor?


Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them move from mired to inspired.  Go to to learn how she can help your organization.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation.