This post is part-two in a two-part series titled “You Don’t Know Your Donors”

I had an interesting discussion the other day. Someone asked me: “What is a donor?” It was an intriguing question. What is a donor? Well, by definition, a non-profit donor is someone who gives something, especially money, to a fund or charity.

A donor. Sounds a bit one-way, doesn’t it?

If I am your donor, I am a source. I am the origin of your money. Looking at it this way means that you are dependent on me. If I perform, you are OK. If I don’t, you aren’t OK.

You need to get something from me for you to be OK.

Now, if you stop right there, you can see how lopsided this is. We have set up a system where you, the organization, are taken care of, but there is no contract or obligation to take care of me, your donor.

Seems one-way to me. And it is. Because it’s transactional.

If you think about how most of us behave in a non-profit – how we use our time – the focus and emphasis of our work – it is, fundamentally, a great deal of time planning for how to GET the money and relatively little time and resources spent on how to give back to the donor.

Stop for a minute and analyze your publications, your online messaging, your collateral, everything you write about – it is mostly about what you can get from me, your donor, and what you are doing with it.

Don’t get me wrong here. This is good. But what Jeff and I, and our team, are saying is that the messaging to your non-profit donor needs to be more than that.

Here’s why it needs to be more.

A donor is a human being – a real person with values, thoughts, feelings, passions, and interests. A donor is busy with life, like we all are, but they are also thinking about things outside themselves. No matter what station in life, no matter what circumstances the person is surrounded by, it has been our experience that every human being has some measure of generosity and care buried in their spirit. Generosity and care that fits a category of focus and yearns for expression. I want to spend a little time on each of those:

  • Category of focus – By this I mean we all are interested in specific things. Some folks want to express their care for animals or the environment. Others have a special concern with defeating cancer. Others will spend their time and money on education or homelessness or medical research. Etc. Every human being has a specific interest. It is this interest that drives them to an organization that shares that interest which is how a non-profit comes into being – a critical mass of people with like interests to address a societal problem join together to deal with that problem. Category of focus – everyone has one.
  • Yearning for expression – I have never seen anyone just bury their interests and passions. No, those passions and interests find a way out to expression in some way. Some folks spend a great deal of time and money expressing their interests and passions. Others don’t. But in either case, one can always find the expression, either large or small. Why, because you can’t stop the yearning. It will find expression.

This places a burden on all of us insiders to meet this need in our donors, which is why your messaging needs to be about more than just getting the money. And that communication needs to launch from a system that includes the following elements:

  1. Knowing the donor’s passions and interests – This means you need to discover this information and record it in your database.
  2. Serving the passions and interests – This means you are sending information to the donor about what the problem is in the area they are interested in, what causes the problem, what you are doing about it, and how the donor is making a difference. (Learn more in our free white paper on this topic.)

These two system elements for non-profit donor communication and relationships need to be put in place and fully expressed in your organization if the relationship between you and your donor is going to be mutual, authentic, effective, and productive.


Other Posts in this Series:

  1. The Problem with Major Gifts Messaging
  2. How to View and Think About A Non-Profit Donor (this post)