What Do Donors Want? Look in the Mirror


This may be the most important fundraising exercise you ever do — noticing what makes you tick when it comes to giving away your money. If you do this with a group of people, your board or staff for example, you will see the broad range of responses. You’ll also notice many similarities, regardless of each person’s giving capacity.

First, make a list of the organizations to which you give money. Not just the obvious one or two, but go a little deeper. Come up with at least five. Now, take the time to answer each of the following questions for each donation you make:

  1. For how many years have you given to this organization?
  2. How much money do you give them each year?
  3. In addition to giving money, do you give your time or other goods and services?
  4. How have you been solicited for the gifts you have given? In person, over the phone, in the mail, at an event, etc.?
  5. What type of thanks do you receive for your gifts?
  6. What type of ongoing recognition and appreciation does each organization offer you?
  7. What opportunities for involvement does each offer?
  8. What would it take for you to give even more to this group?

Now stand back and notice patterns and trends in your giving.

For how many years have you been giving to the same organizations? Did you increase your giving over the years? Was there anything they had done along the way that encouraged you to give more?

Are you a loyal or a fickle donor? Or a little of both? Do you give faithfully to your old standby favorites? Do you intersperse them with new ones? If so, what does it take to become a new recipient of your gift?

Is there any correlation between the amount of your time and money you give to an organization? Do you feel differently about giving money to the places where you also volunteer in some way?

What kind of thanks do you receive? Are you thanked more or less than you would like? Does it feel personal enough? Does it seem like the organization knows you or wants to know you better?

Is your name prominently displayed in places that matter to you? On plaques. In annual reports. Though this may not seem important to you, notice your reaction should your name be inadvertently omitted.

In terms of ongoing connection, is there more each organization could be doing? Do they invite you to other events throughout the year? Do you feel sufficiently connected to their mission? If it’s a national organization, are you part of a larger national ‘society’ or group recognition program?

What more would it take for them to receive a larger gift from you? More information, more direct contact, more recognition? Maybe just a phone call?

The key takeaway from this exercise is that you are a donor. Rather than preparing for an Ask by steeling yourself to approach a hostile stranger, imagine approaching them as you would want to be approached — as a real human being with concerns, opinions, a busy life, and a commitment to making the world a better place. It will make your fundraising efforts easier and more natural.

Action steps you can take today