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It's time to stop treating donors like ATMs!

When it comes to fundraising, cultivation is KEY. Sure, you may get lucky every once in awhile where a donation comes out of the blue, but for the most part, fundraising is all about development. The very word “development” suggest that fundraising is a process of cultivation and relationship and building trust.

I know what you may be thinking, “I know Matt this is so obvious! I mean, my title is Development Manager after all!” If this is the case, great — well done. But, I’m here to challenge that this basic understanding is not shared amongst non-profit fundraisers. Appeals I have witnessed and “best practice” advice that I read quite often, suggests that instead of thinking of donors as unique individuals with unique motivations, it’s easier to lump them together and send out blanket solicitations at will — i.e., treating them like ATMs…MONEY PLEASE!


I recently attended a large fundraising conference and had a lovely encounter with a woman who had just decided to devote her career to starting a nonprofit. She quit her corporate job to start raising money for a cause that she was passionate about — you go girl! (Can I say that? Oh well, I just did). As she was telling me about her new profession and her excitement and anxiety in doing so, she told me she was attending the conference to learn how to fundraise. I, being a bit bullish, piped up and told her, “don’t get too caught up in all of this. The one thing that you need to know is that to be a successful fundraiser is that it’s all about building relationships.”

A bit over simplistic yes, but I truly believe that if you are to get one thing right when it comes to fundraising, it’s to take the time to build a relationship with your donors. At the heart of this it implies the ‘golden rule,’ to treat others as you would like to be treated. In your own friendships and relationships I’m sure you do not enjoy people like the one depicted in GIF above — always asking, taking, and asking some more. Or, how about the types of people who are constantly selling — you know the type, they are on Facebook right now trying to sell you something when all you wanted was to see pictures of puppies and nieces and nephews! When I encounter those types of people (and fundraisers), I’m like:


And here is why — these types of people/fundraisers do not take the time to find out:

1) Who I am

2) What motivates me

3) How I would like to engage

So, as a fundraiser to incite engagement and donations with your mission its time to focus on how you can:

1) Know who your donors are on a personal level (or using analytics to tell you about them)

2) Know what your donors like about your mission and what motivates them to get engaged or give

3) Know how your constituents would like to engage with your mission — whether this be as simple as how they choose to give, or as big as knowing that they don’t have the means to give today, but would be happy to volunteer 10 hours a week

Once we have taken the time to get to know our donors either through building relationships or gathering data and insights from past engagement, we are much more likely to make a meaningful ask. One that makes our donors feel valued, honored, involved, and meaningful. One that hopefully will make them feel like this:

If you find value in this insight please share it. And if you would like to connect please reach out!