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What Are Your Nonprofit Donors Looking For?

Today – on Valentine’s Day, I asked donor development expert Mary Hutchinson about advice on “courting” donors for nonprofit organizations.  Here’s what she had to say:

For the most part, they are silent and faceless, but the people who give to your non-profit—dare I say it—do indeed have feelings.  Yes, that pesky little thing that most men hate to talk about, and most women need stroked to move them to any decision. And face it, men may have most of the money, but it is women that make the lion share of decisions about giving. Not only that, but they also make the effort to make it happen.

But sadly, most donor development people rarely get out of the office and actually meet donors, so the donors really are faceless. But if it is your job to get the next gift for your charity or ministry, focus for a moment on the face:

People 45 and older do over 80% of the giving.  (Don’t worry about the young folks for now, as they age, they will give.) But picture in your mind some well-loved lady in your life of that age and consider how she personally determines if what she does makes a difference and if it truly matters.

As a donor development consultant, I have spent years surveying donors by phone, mail and email. Through studying their habits via good software and testimony, I’ve boiled it down to the five simple things your donor is looking for:

1) She wants to matter.  Giving money is not a causal response to your request/need. She knows the value of the ever-shrinking dollar. Her family is on the decline of their money-making years. When she gives a gift, she wants to know—really know—that something good happened because she gave; she wants to know how many people were fed, educated, or evangelized. Tell her the stories, show her the pictures, and assure her that her gift moved the needle for the cause.

2) She wants to know you were the right choice.  You may think (and you may be right) that no one else does what you do. But in her mind, there are others competing for her donation dollars. So you need to educate her as to why choosing your non-profit was the right idea. Do you have a five star rating from Charity Navigator? Were the funds matched by a major donor? Is there impact you are making with the dollar given that no one else can claim? Affirm her with this information in as many ways and places as you can. Put it in the “thank you” letter, your website, and especially in any additional appeals.

3) She wants to belong.  Her demographic is the fastest growing area in web traffic. She may not be giving online (most likely, she is not) but that’s not to say she isn’t online and on social media. Empower and enable her to tell your story. As a donor, give her links to stories she can post her own Facebook wall. Help her tell her world that you matter to her (and what she will glean from that is she matters to you, too).

4) She wants a legacy.  It is one thing to feed a child today, but what about tomorrow? Even in relief fundraising, donors today want to know there that her gifts will be used as part of a larger plan. I am not talking about a building or capitol campaign, but more the knowledge that the charity she is supporting is moving people from need to hope to a real future. She knows she will not be around forever to support the work, and wants to know that her support, long term, was not in vain.

5) She wants to be heard.  No matter how many times I dig into donor programs, I am always amazed to learn why donors, especially major donors, stopped giving. More often than not, I learn that the non profit dropped the ball. They stopped writing (“major donors don’t want fund raising letters,” staff and board members say); they called and no one returned their call; they wrote with a specific question or request and no one responded. No one likes to be ignored.

Take care of your donors and I promise, they will take care of you.   But if you don’t. . .

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  1. These are great points!

    Mary has worked with our ministry, World
    Compassion/Terry Law Ministries, for several years now. She has done an excellent job moving us forward with our donor communications which have proven
    to be effective. In a time where our ministry is in transition from one generation to the next, not only in
    leadership, but in our donor base she continues to keep us focused on what is fulfilling to the donor and what produces results for the ministry.

  2. Mary listed many great points here. The one that struck me the most is, “No one likes to be ignored.” So true. Everything comes down to relationship.People will go where they are valued, appreciated and talked to, not talked at. We look forward to implementing your brilliant strategies Mary!

  3. Loved this. I serve on multiple boards and find myself needing to educate them on some of these very principles. Mary boiled the essentials down nicely.

  4. Good ideas, but they are applicable for both sexes. Why did we have to start with the sexist idea that women need their feelings stroked for any decision while men are basing their decisions purely on a cold-hearted sense of charitable duty? Unless it’s a business executive trying to get a tax break, anyone giving to a charity is doing it at least partially based on emotions.

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