Treating Donors Like People, not Dollars – Guest Post

In the competitive world of nonprofit donors, we want to look at how to treat our donors so they enjoy lasting, loyal, and productive relationships with us.


We need to treat the donors as people, and not as the gifts they make.

People are motivated to give you money
People decide to support your mission
People connect with your organization

Gifts are what comes out of that relationship, so stop treating your donors like dollar figures and start treating them like people.

The following post from Ailie Byers president of Alpenglow Benefit Auctions is based on her recent webinar with Greater Giving “Donors vs. Dollars, How to Win in the Long Run with Alpenglow Benefits”.

Donor focused fundraising is one of those game-changing ideas out there. Based on Penelope Burk’s 2003 book Donor Centered Fundraising[1], the idea is simple, if we treat donors like people, and give them what they want, they will become long term supporters and advocates for our causes.

What do they want?

Research shows that after each gift made to your organization, you need to do three things BEFORE you ask for anything else.

  1. Give your donors a prompt and personal thank you for their gift
  2. Acknowledge what program or initiative the gift is going to—and it needs to be specific
  3. Share with your donors a report on measurable outcomes of a said program to date, and outlook going forward

If you can give this to your donors, then they will generally respond with less attrition, give a higher level, and become lifetime supporters. They even tend to give before being asked, if you are consistent with this 3-step process—now those are dream donors!

Step 1- Thank You

Regardless of the size of the gift, thank your donors for their donation to your organization. It could be a test gift, a gift under the value they can or will give, just to see how you respond to the donation. So don’t let the first donation put that donor into a “box” of their capacity.

If we segment our donors based on their gifts, then we limit our interactions with supporters who may be growing their capacity as well as their love of your organization. You are just shooting yourself in the foot if you do this.

Your thank you should be prompt, it should be personal, and it should resonate with them. A handwritten note of just a few sentences can work wonders. A personal call from a board member that lasts 30 seconds may create your next major donor.

Step 2- Assign Gift To Specific Project

The age-old battle of restricted vs. non-restricted gifts is not one we can hash out here. However, research has shown that restricted gifts get better results long term. It creates trust between the donor and the organization as to how the money will be spent and can result in large unrestricted gifts once that trust is rock solid.

Plus by assigning the gift to a specific program, it makes the third step of showing measurable outcomes a lot easier!

Step 3- Share Outcomes & Meaningful Information on Progress Of Projects

So, since you know what your donors gifted to (see above), you can share with them how the project is going and the results you are seeing.

Front line staff are an excellent resource for this. Photos, testimonials by those helped are great resources for sharing outcomes. People love telling and hearing stories, use that to share how it is going.

Don’t limit yourself to only sharing on a predetermined basis. Share news as it happens. The delivery of 500 pounds of dog food to the shelter&mdasph; snap a photo and post to social media and a quick email to donors.

Those new desks at the school, share a story from one of the students about how it helped her confidence in group work along with her smiling face.

That is news to share that will help your donors know where they are making an impact, and that your organization is getting the job done.

Don’t Be Afraid to Share Failures As Well

All great successes had failures along the way; most “breakthroughs” are created from missteps. If you are honest about the problem, your corrective action and you plan moving forward; Most donors will understand and not “penalize” you for it. Donors are people, and all people know about failure on some level!

Respect Their Time

Lastly, keep this in mind in all of your communications with donors. They have made a gift to your organization; you do not need to explain to them your mission. They know your purpose, they gave to you. Give them the info they want in bite-size bits. If they want more information, drive them to your website, to let them explore and learn on their time, don’t assume they have the time when you choose to communicate with them.

Just remember that we need to treat the donors as people, in how we communicate with them, in how we relate to them. Each time you start to work with a donor, think about how that interaction would make you feel as a donor, and proceed as such!

[1] Penelope Burk wrote the book Donor Centered Fundraising in 2003: 2nd Ed. 2018 it can be found at & Amazon.


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