What Does a Donor REALLY Mean To You?

Published by Tony Elischer on


The New Lexicon of Fundraising; Part 2

Change your words, change your mind, change your outlook, change your actions and change the world. In this second challenge piece on the words we use to describe our actions and profession I want to focus on the true ‘centre piece’ of our attentions and action, what we currently call ‘the donor’.

The logic is that as people ‘give or donate’ they must therefore be donors. The trouble is that surely we do not want people to ‘just give’ or for us to see them as ‘living cash points (ATMs)’ to be accessed or cracked. Smart fundraising has moved away from focusing on the money as the core of an individual’s support to appreciating the true need to draw people into a relationship that can grow gradually and with time grow to be stronger and more committed; get a series of actions and interactions right and the money will follow.

Remember if you are a professional fundraiser we are trained on the word donor and accept it has far and wide meanings, but outside our profession the dictionary will guide people along these lines: “a person who donates something, especially money to charity’” or “a person who gives something (such as blood or a body organ) so that it can be given to somebody who needs it.”

If the basics are that ‘fundraising is so much more than just money’, we must all now recognise the 360° view of the donor; in taking this view we need constantly to seek to recognise, build, measure and integrate:

60°: money, preferably on a steady regular basis, building in value year on year and hopefully building towards a possible ultimate gift, that of a legacy.


120°: time, historically given more generously than money and now a precious commodity that is increasingly in short supply.


180°: goods, the essential gifts-in-kind that people can give to be used, traded or sold.


240°: voice, to build a relationship people need to be heard and have the opportunity to share their views, passions and thoughts. As campaigning and advocacy are essential parts of what we do, voice is a precious gift to target and acknowledge. Many charities are now embracing and refreshing the idea of being a ‘movement’ for some form of change; movements are made up of many voices combined to highlight the need for change in a specific area.


300°: influence, central to growth of any organisation is the need to get people to share their passion, values and belief in your charity. Word of mouth is back as THE number one form of marketing and influence is the driving force as people connect, share and communicate.


360°: life change, direct actions people can take in the way they lead their everyday lives; buying fair trade, seeking ethical companies with which to interact, avoiding companies that have dubious human rights track records, etc.

The word ‘donor’ seems too passive and faceless with all these factors not only at work but critical to true integrated fundraising. We should also consider that in most developed fundraising markets less than ten percent of the population is the true supporter and giver to charity. These are the people who see the need and value to ‘put back’, help us and take a wider responsibility for the world we live in. With such a small pool of people we need to change our view and see everyone in the ten percent as an investor, a term that to date we have reserved for HNWIs (High Net-Worth Individuals). Let’s be honest, most medium and larger sized charities now have to adopt fully business practices and accountabilities to operate efficiently and to implement their programmes, so the people who share our values and fund us ARE investors and key stakeholders; but the nice thing for them and us is that they are investors in a better world.

Consider how the word investor forces us to think, prepare and act differently; investors are more likely to consider: shared values, past track record, brand reputation, who is in charge, credibility of programmes and solutions, potential impact for their gift and above all they will take more interest in their gift, potentially leading to other ‘investments’ if they are happy and feel there has been a ‘good return’ on their investments in your mission and work. In return you need to respond to investors with smarter communications, tailored communications, better service, a stronger sense of accountability and as partners in your work not just ‘donors’.

Like other elements in the new Lexicon of Fundraising I am taking the realistic view that we may not actually change the words we use day to day, but if we can find space in any review, planning creativity sessions to talk and think differently we may take a different approach and create something more original and better aligned to the ever changing lives of the people we want to connect to in a long term meaningful way.



Everyone has a unique gift to initiate change and truly achieve great things in fundraising through the power of their words and mindset. This eight part blog series will challenge and inspire you by outlining new words, new language and new ways not only to think about fundraising but to transform your strategy and day-to-day actions.  Also read the first blog of this series that is published earlier.


Tony Elischer

Tony Elischer

Tony has over 30 years hands on experience in the not for profit sector. He has been a consultant for the last fourteen years working at the highest level across a wide range of causes and organisations and is the founder of the leading international consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions. He is an internationally regarded expert on fundraising and marketing, having extensive experience of helping charities worldwide with strategy, fundraising, management and troubleshooting. In the last 12 months he has worked in over 20 countries.


Mugabi John Socrates · May 5, 2017 at 12:13

I am very greatful for this opportunity to move through the need to understand fundraising in details.I am starting a new think tank which really needs understanding fundraising principles.

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[…] Read Part 2 of the Series here […]

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