Seeing donors as partners: will you shift your culture?

Published by Jackie Fowler on

In all the recent media stories covering what’s wrong with charity fundraising, one thing that’s not getting enough airtime is what an amazing and life-enhancing experience giving can be. This gives us a huge opportunity – but may well require quite a shift in how we work.

From what I see, giving helps us to express our values and beliefs, and to achieve some good out of bad. Helps us to stop someone else suffering the same terrible disease we have seen a loved one go through. Look after people in our communities. Fight for the human rights we can’t imagine not having.

I’m always amazed by the profound things donors express when they give. Heartfelt empathy with a vulnerable teenager. Support to a young girl who has turned her life around from victim to educator. Personal stories shared of what WWII veterans mean to them.

People reach inside, to their most personal experiences, and share them openly.

This is stuff they really care about. Which is why it’s so important that we treat them right.

imagesGiving in the age of customer service

We all know what good customer service looks like – and we expect it from the brands we really value. And good supporter service for charities is equally if not more important – it means making the experience of giving feel efficient, effective, and considerate for donors.

Finding out what sort of communications people want, then living up to it.

This isn’t easy to deliver – and may mean you making some hard decisions – but if your charity gets it right, people will be more likely to enjoy the experience, more inclined to trust your charity, and more likely to stay.

Relationship fundraising is more than this

But the unique chance for charities is to talk to people with shared values, in the right language, about things that matter to you both. To show people you respect opportunities they can take, sharing stories and bringing them as close as possible to the work you deliver.

For those who want it, to offer a relationship which becomes a long-term, win-win situation, that grows over time, involving one sort of support, or many.

If you can make that connection and get it right, people will find a comfortable home for their own passion in your organisation. They will absorb your charity into their life, and live out their own long-term commitment to a cause, perhaps eventually leave you a legacy. And gain considerable reward and pleasure as they do so.

So the opportunity, when you do both, is to treat your donors as your partners. And to raise more money, over the long term, as a result.

And this is where we run into problems

Of course this is not straightforward. How do you square the need to set targets and measure performance on an annual basis, with the much longer-term business of encouraging lifelong support?

How do we get beyond seeing our donors as our warm database, whose job it is to collectively give the money we need to raise each year?

Respecting donors as individuals means putting long-term benefit above short-term gain. And that’s not easy.

It involves investing and measuring results across longer time periods, much longer than a single financial year – and having the courage and faith to believe that embedding this thinking in your charity will yield much greater long-term value.

Leading from the top to get it right

This is why it seems to me that the values, policy and practices of fundraising have to be set at board level – led from the top and embraced by everyone. So that we see our donors as our partners – the enablers – and set them alongside our beneficiaries – the people or work they want to make happen.

It’s a tall order.

A change worth making

But now is the critical time to focus on the opportunity: the rewards that supporting charities can bring. The positive role that charities can play in people’s lives.

The chance to build lifetime support by engaging with the right people in the right way, over a long time period.

And it all starts by putting donors as partners at the heart of your charity.

Categories: Latest posts

Jackie Fowler

Jackie Fowler is the Chair and owner of fundraising, marketing and communications agency, Burnett Works. She has over 25 years' experience working with a huge range of charities,large and small, helping them to grow support through direct marketing programmes, integrated campaigns and brand development. Jackie is a keen advocate of Relationship Fundraising and it remains a key cornerstone of her fundraising thinking and practice.


Jennifer Fortner · May 3, 2016 at 16:44

I am so crushing on this article! Great writing Jackie and thank you!

Donors give blood, partners are partakers. There is a big difference and you articulated it so well!

Donor: (1) A person who donates something. (2) a person who provides blood for transfusion, semen for insemination, or an organ or tissue for transplantation.
Partner: (1) A person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits.

    Jackie Fowler · May 4, 2016 at 11:45

    Hi Jennifer, thank you so much for your positive comment – and I’m pleased to hear that this rings true for you. Yes – donating can be so much more than simply giving – and your definitions are a very useful reminder of that!
    Best wishes, Jackie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *