Do Your Donors Feel Like They Belong?

Engaged donors are easier to cultivate and they are anxious to help your nonprofit. Many nonprofits think that engaged donors are as rare as 10-carat diamonds. We agree that engaged donors are like valuable diamonds but we think you shape them rather than find them.

The starting point is someone who cares about your mission and your clients’ needs. The more deeply they care the easier your job is but all that you need is someone who cares. We listen when someone talks about something we care about. Unless a donor is listening, it is impossible to engage them.

You must have something to say that they want to hear or you must ask questions to encourage them to talk about something that is important to your mission (not your nonprofit) or your clients. Asking questions is the better tactic. When they are able to talk about things that interest them, they will want to be associated with your mission. Feeling like they belong is engaging by itself. It also helps them feel like your mission is or could be an extension of their identity. People are happy to promote and support organizations that they identify with. Use your communications with donors (mailings, cultivation, texts, etc.) to intensify their feelings of belonging. Ensure that everything your nonprofit does, starting with your board, adds authenticity to your communications.

Donors want to feel included and important. They know their money is important. They also want to know they are more important than their money. Here are four things you can do to help your donors realize their importance and feel included:

Listen – Solicited and unsolicited ideas are listened to and respected. Ensure your donors’ ideas are given a fair hearing by your leadership to intensify your donors’ sense of belonging. Ensuring that they receive feedback about their ideas helps to demonstrated that the ideas were considered.

Invite - Asking donors for help also makes them feel like they belong. This is especially true if they are invited to help in ways other than financial. They want to know that they belong because of who they are rather than how much they give.

Accept Push Back – It is impossible for a donor to be responsive to every request. They want to be comfortable declining. Be careful to never ask a donor for help in a way that might make them feel guilty. Trust that their passion will keep them from declining without justification.

Support – Rarely do donors need something from the nonprofits they support. When they do they want to feel they will receive support. Ensure they know that they can count on you as much as you can count on them.

Belonging is a two-way street. Your response to your donors models the response you can expect from them.

Next Step:

Recruit prospective donors who care; thank and release the other prospects

Cultivate every donor’s sense of belonging to your nonprofit

Ensure your nonprofit’s thoughts, words, and deeds (at all levels and across every activity) are consistent with what you want your donors and other stakeholders to feel, hear, see, and do

Ensure that every interaction with a donor models the behavior you want your donors to adopt

Boards have many issues facing them every meeting. It is easy for them to think that the current issue is the most important. However, when a board member asks, “How do we get the donors to give more?”, they are treating donors like a resource rather than people who are part of the team. Even if the donors never hear what was said, it is still an indication that the nonprofit’s culture needs to be more donor centric. Hopefully when that happens at your nonprofit someone on the fundraising committee speaks up.

Take It Further:

Ask your board development committee to teach board members how to be donor sensitive in all that they think, say, and do

Ensure everything you want your donors to experience is authentically part of your culture

Tell stories about your nonprofit that demonstrate the authenticity of your belonging environment

Change the fundraising committee’s name to donor services committee to emphasize your commitment to being donor centric


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