To get what you want, give your donors what they want

publication date: Feb 23, 2012
author/source: Alan Sharpe
The secret to building long-term, profitable, mutually beneficial relationships with donors is to think the way donors think. Here are some ways to see your donors as people and not pocketbooks. Understanding how your donors think is your key to helping them - and you - make a measurable difference in the world.Alan Sharpe photo
  • Thank your donors promptly and personally every time they mail you a gift. (Does your charity do this well? Take our poll, right.)
  • Describe how you are using the donor's last gift the way the donor intended. The majority of long-term, faithful donors give to make a difference, and many will not give again until they know their last gift was put to good use the way they wanted. So show ample proof.
  • Treat your donors as thoughtful investors who care how their money is spent.
  • Don't appeal to short-term motivators, such as fear, that raise plenty of short-term funds but not enough long-term friends.
  • Give your donors enough information to make an informed opinion about giving. Anticipate the questions and objections that thoughtful people will raise about your organization, your mission and your ask, and answer them in your letter.
  • Help your donors solve a problem. Donors will not throw money at an impossible situation. They need to have hope that their donation will meet a need. So offer hope.
  • Don't promote future tax benefits alone. Instead, stress the difference a donation makes in lives changed and problems solved today. You want donors who believe in your cause, who want to help others more than they help themselves.
  • Instead of asking for funds that your organization needs, invite donors to accomplish their goals by making the world a better place (by mailing you a gift).
  • Think long term. Raising money with mail is a long-term commitment that you need to make to your organization and to your donors. You and I could put together a tear-jerking, guilt-inducing package that manipulated donors into parting with large sums of money, but those kinds of appeals are not sustainable year after year. Take the long-term view.
  • Remember that your donors are people. And people give to people to help people. This basic fundraising truth means that you must state your organizational needs in human terms whenever possible. "Human interest sells," as Mal Warwick puts it. You must translate your case for support from nonprofit-speak into flesh and blood. Donors want to know how their gift will help people. So give your donors what they want - heart-warming stories about people in need, and how you help them thanks to your donors' generosity.
Alan Sharpe is a fundraising practitioner, author, trainer and speaker. Through his weekly email newsletter, books, handbooks and workshops, Alan helps nonprofit organizations worldwide to acquire more donors, raise more funds and build stronger relationships. Alan is the senior strategist at Harvey McKinnon Associates. For more information or to contact him, visit

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