“Forget about the money.”

What an odd piece of advice to give a fundraiser. And yet, I think there are many fundraisers who would do well to heed it.

We are so burdened by the pressure of meeting fundraising goals that we often lose sight of a simple truth: Those numbers in your spreadsheet are people. They are people who donate to your organization to meet some basic need of their own. That need is often tied to identity, a yearning for community, or to exercise a sense of agency by donating to a burning problem in the world. Their money comes with expectations.

Your donors expect to be seen and acknowledged. They expect to be thanked in a heartfelt manner. And while there’s often a transactional element to fundraising, in our many years of surveying donors we have never had a donor tell us they stopped giving because they didn’t like the premium. On the other hand just yesterday I saw a note from a donor in a survey saying they were ending their relationship with the organization because it was mid-April and they still hadn’t been acknowledged for a gift they made in January.

Friend and longtime mentor Roger Craver, in a recent must-read Agitator post lamented the loss of a sense of community in donor relationships: ​​”Why are we losing donors? It’s more than economics; it’s about connection. Or the lack of it. We need to bridge that gap, to restore that sense of belonging that binds us all to something bigger than ourselves.”

I’ll let you in on a secret. Just like the smarmy waiter at a restaurant who smiles and compliments much too much, many organizations come across the same way to their donors. They see more than you think they do. They put up with the fake surveys leading to donate asks, or the questionable matches, or the five emails sent in a week, because they want to make a difference and they’re willing, up to a point, to overlook the faux camaraderie, or the complete lack of it. But they see it. They tell us every time we do a survey.

So here’s a thought experiment: Take a couple of hours and pretend your only goal is to make your donors happy, make them feel seen, and offer them a sense of connection and community. What would you do? What would you say? How would you offer sincere recognition, connection and community to your donors? How can you find the time and money to deliver just 10 percent more of that?

Look we get it: you’re short-staffed, you’ve been handed absurdly inflated fundraising targets, and your program staff edits your fundraising copy by scrubbing it of all emotion. And, your professional status (and possibly your self-worth) ride in some measure on your success at delivering the dollars. So do what you can, and take pride in the moments when you not only delivered income to your organization, you delivered happiness to your donors as well. And oh by the way, you might also end up raising more money.


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