Donors are great, but supporters are better!

Published by Maia Kahlke Mikkelsen on

A donor is someone who gives money to your organization. A supporter is someone who will support your organization financially or non-financially – or preferably both!

My advice is: If you want donors who are easier to recruit and who stay longer, start thinking of them as supporters instead.

That means – gasp! – you’ll have to start asking donors for things besides money!

There are three good reasons to do this:

1. The acquisition factor

For instance, asking your donors for their time before you ask them for their money will actually increase their giving.

“In a field experiment involving real contributions to a charity, participants who were first asked about their intention to volunteer for the charity subsequently donated more money to the charity, compared to participants who were not first asked about volunteering intentions.

“However, people who were first asked about their intention to donate money donated less to the charity relative to those in the control condition where no questions were asked.”

So, asking people for their time first increases the likelihood that they’ll give money – and it increases the size of their donations compared to donors who weren’t asked to give time.

As we in Amnesty, and lots of other advocacy organizations, have discovered, the entry into the fundraising pyramid is much wider if it is made through non-financial actions. This can be volunteering, signing a petition, sharing a message, or taking part in a campaign.

In Amnesty Denmark, where I work, we integrate our campaigning, activism and fundraising. That means that we ask non-financial supporters to become regular donors after they’ve taken part in one of our advocacy campaigns or activism networks. Usually over the phone, and only when permission is given, of course.

If we compare recruiting donors from our SMS activism network to fundraising classics such as face2face and cold telemarketing, the results speak for themselves:

  • The conversion rate for leads from our SMS activism program is 18% higher than canvas “cold” telemarketing.
  • The ROI of recruiting SMS activists as donors is three times higher than fundraising classics such as face to face and canvas “cold” telemarketing.
  • The average monthly amount the SMS activists pledge is 12% above the avg. amount of cold TM pledges.
  • The average lifetime of these supporters is double the face2face recruited donors and 33% higher than the cold TM recruited donors.
  • The lifetime value is also comparatively higher. 2,5 times as high as the average lifetime value of a face2face donor and 1,75 times as high as the average cold TM donor.


2. The retention factor

Another good reason to engage your donors in being active for your cause, apart from their financial contribution, is that it makes them likely to stay longer.

The donors recruited through Amnesty Denmark’s SMS program have a higher lifetime value and a longer lifetime than donors who are recruited via canvas telemarketing or face to face.

Furthermore, looking at our general supporter base, the new monthly donors who then join our digital activism have a better retention in the first four months. The attrition rate of the donors who don’t join the network is 20% higher on average the first four months.

All the people who sign up do not necessarily take part in the activism. But they get the offer. And that means a lot to modern-day donors, who often feel the need to “do more” than give money, but often are not offered that option by their charities.

So the retention factor is logical, in a sense. Wouldn’t you be more loyal to an organization that you felt like an active part of? And wouldn’t your loyalty increase the more you interacted with the organization? Wouldn’t you be a more loyal supporter than a donor?


3. The integration factor

To do this, you’ll have to start working very closely with the program and communications offices in your organization to find the opportunities for integrated campaigns and fundraising.

Because it is important to note, that our sms network is mainly a human rights activity with a very real impact. It is primarily a tool for activism that has been subsequently integrated with fundraising.

Gasp again! But that’s not possible in our organization, you might say. We work in silos. And my colleagues in the other departments don’t understand fundraising. They always try to overcomplicate things, and once they get their hands on our fundraising materials, they make them boring and useless.

Does this sound slightly familiar?

I can recommend trying to reach out to these colleagues, in spite of their shortcomings in terms of calculating ROI and doing an engaging mail piece.

Because the silos we work in are not just inefficient, they’re downright bad for our bottom lines.

So, after you’ve come home from the IFC with your head full of fresh ideas, why don’t you try walking to another floor and share them with someone from another department? You may be surprised at the results.

From donors to supporters

My advice is:  Start thinking about how you can engage your donors in your cause along several lines, not just the financial ones. And do start asking you non-financial supporters – volunteers, activists, advocacy groups etc. – to give.

Start thinking of your donors as supporters – both financial and non-financial. I promise it pays off!

P.S. If you’re not convinced – or curious on how to make this happen in your organization, pay a visit to one of the workshops I’m doing with Nick Allen at IFC on Thursday the 18th at 9:00 or 11:00. We promise solid advice on how to integrate your fundraising and campaigning and how to convert non-financial supporters into donors – and vice versa.


This year 101fundraising is the official blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress (IFC), the world’s leading conference on fundraising. This blog post is part of a special IFC Blog Series, where we give IFC speakers a chance to share their wisdom before the conference. Attending crowdbloggers will get a chance to share their views after the conference!

Participating IFC speakers are Bernard Ross, Derek Humphries, Chris Carnie, David Cravinho, Maia Kahlke-Mikkelsen and Lucy Gower!

Maia Kahlke Mikkelsen

Maia is a trainer, facilitator and consultant in the areas of mobilisation, digital communication and fundraising. She currently is digital manager at The Resource Alliance. She is a founding member of the Bonobo Radical Collective in Copenhagen and has held a variety of positions at Greenpeace and Amnesty International in Denmark,


Mikael · October 11, 2012 at 16:09

Hello Maia, okay!?

I’d like your permission to translate your article into Portuguese. I have a Facebook page and I’m starting to talk a little more about Fundraising, which is rarely discussed in Brazil.

My LinkedIn profile:


    Maia · October 11, 2012 at 22:25

    Hi Michael.

    Sure, you’re very welcome to translate it into portugese, as long as you put my byline on it.

    Good luck with discussing fundraising in Brazil!


    Maia · October 11, 2012 at 22:26

    Hi Michael

    You’re very welcome to translate and share this post with my byline.

    Good luck with getting a good fundraising discussion going in Brazil.

Vanessa Chase · October 11, 2012 at 17:01

There could not be a more true sentiment, Maia! I believe as fundraisers, we are also connectors and need to broaden the scopes of our relationships with people who support us financially.

    Maia · October 11, 2012 at 22:27

    Hi Vanessa.

    Indeed, we need to take a 360 degree view of our supporters.

Helen Maynard-Hill · September 9, 2013 at 22:02

Hi Maia,
This is a great article and right on topic for a discussion I am planning to have in a few weeks in Amsterdam.

Would you happen to be in Amsterdam on 04 October? If not, could you recomend a colleague based in The Netherlands who has the same outlook as you? Any advice or help with this would be really appreciated.

Many thanks

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