So your donors don’t “get” you. What else is new?



In membership development and advocacy, the things that deliver the best results don’t always align with an organization’s favorite way of speaking about itself or its work. Sometimes an organization’s most important programs or messages – the ones that strike at the very heart of its mission – are the least appealing to donors.

So what do you do when the messages you most want to convey don’t dazzle as many of your donors as you’d like?

  1. For starters, recognize it. Realize that there will always be some degree of disconnect between your organization and its donors. That donors don’t always “get” you isn’t even a problem to be solved, so much as it is a reality to be recognized.
  2. Keep on working to find the common ground between what represents your organization best and what excites its donors the most.
  3. At the same time, work on defining whether and how much your organization is willing to compromise on message for results and vice versa.

While you’re at it, think about your metrics for defining results. Because while you may think of results in terms of dollars raised and actions taken, your program director and even your executive director may occasionally have different definitions of success.


2 Comments on So your donors don’t “get” you. What else is new?

  1. Miriam K. says:

    How do you broaden a donor base when it is for an organization that is very specific, without resorting to emotional blackmail. For example, when the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia was selling raffle tickets this past Friday, we did very poorly compared with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society who had passers-by thrusting open their wallets. Admittedly, they had a far better marketing tool than we did: their volunteers took it in shifts to cycle on stationary bikes for over three hours; whereas, I was stuck alone for four hours because of work schedules and family issues that came up at the last second with my volunteers. I am personally less likely to donate to a cause if an organization uses emotional blackmail, but I feel like this is a last resort for the EFVA. Most of the time people will donate money to a cause because they hear it helps children, but I want to go one step further and promote the high incidence of epilepsy in our returning veterans. These are all basic truths about what is going on in the world of epilepsy, but at the same time it also feels very exploitative.

  2. Moira says:

    Thanks for your insights Miriam! You’ve highlighted some really important elements of constituency building, so here are a few things you should consider:

    1. Having a meaningful presence at events definitely serves a purpose for your organization. You can raise awareness and maybe even some money at the type of event you described. But building a donor base is different from raising money via raffle ticket sales. Bear in mind that people who buy raffle tickets aren’t donors; they’re people who want to win something. Still, buying a raffle ticket might also indicate some degree of interest in your issues, so in addition to employing your raffle as a revenue generator, you might also consider it a donor lead generator. Follow up with your ticket buyers with a nice solicitation letter or email and see how many of your ticket buyers you can convert to genuine donors.

    2. Your experience also highlights the critical importance of a strong volunteer base for events. For your organization to have a meaningful presence at events, not only do you need a lively and well-staffed table, but you should also have volunteers fanning out into the crowds and making meaningful connections. Try to avoid non-offers at events like “Would you like to join our mailing list” or “Would you like to make a donation?” Of course you want addresses and donations (again, think lead generator), but think of more original offers to engage people at events.

    3. Lastly, I applaud your respect for your donors and wish to avoid “emotional blackmail” in your fundraising messages. Just tell the true, powerful stories of your organization’s beneficiaries. Keep it simple and sincere, and I assure you, your donors will care more and give more.

Add a Comment