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How To Be Your Donors' Favorite Charity

By Angie Joens

For almost 30 years I have been working in the non-profit sector. When I think about how many donors I have met over the years it is staggering to consider. I love meeting someone new and learning their story. I love to ask people why they support my organization. The stories are inspiring, funny, and sometimes bring me to tears. They want me to know their “why”. And knowing their “why” makes our work in donor relations so much easier.

If they give because their education created opportunities they would never have had before – it is good to know. If they support the arts because it feeds something in them they cannot get anywhere else – that is good to know. If they support health care because the care their father received saved his life – that is good to know.

The more we know our donor’s story the more capable we are of engaging them in a personal and meaningful way. And if we do not do this well, some other organization will. Think of this – there are more than 1.6 million charities in the U.S.—now that is a lot of competition. With this many charities competing for donors and dollars how do you make it to the top of the heap? How do you become of the donor’s top philanthropic choices?

Here are a few ideas to help you begin:

1. Learn their stories – People love to tell their stories, so ask them. When did you realize our organization was special? How has our organization changed your life? What inspired you to make your first gift to our organization? Pay attention to the answers and find a way to store this information for the future.

2. Notice your donor’s preferences – I use to have a donor who loved Iowa pork chops. Every time he came back to the area he wanted one. So guess what? I made sure that he got his pork chop. One time I had to call the hotel he was staying at to ensure they had his Iowa chop on the menu. Again – simple information but important to making a donor feel valued and known.

3. Ask for feedback – Who does not love to be asked for advice? This is one of my favorite tactics with donors. If I am creating a new program – I ask my donors for their insight. If I am planning an event – I ask them what type of venue they would prefer. I survey them. I take them to coffee. I invite them to participate in focus groups. We can guess all we want about what our donor’s want, think, and feel but until we ask them we cannot be sure.

4. Create a set of “deep dive” questions – You can gather a lot of information from your development officers about the donor - but what you are looking for is the story behind the story. I once asked a donor why she supported women’s athletics and she told me, all teary-eyed, that she was not allowed to compete in sports when she was growing up. She always wanted to be on a team but it was not allowed back in her day. This was meaningful to her in a deeply personal way – so when we wanted to celebrate her next gift to the women’s basketball team - I suggested we invite the team to go to her home and help her put her garden in. As a team, they worked together with her. She cried when they left and said she finally knew what it was like to be on a team. She was 92 at the time.

Find the story. Ask the questions. Invite the donors into your planning. All of this will help you learn more about your donors and create long and lasting relationships with your organization.


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