If you give donors a great experience, they will give more and give for longer

Published by Giles Pegram on

This, in my view, is self-evident.

Launched earlier this week, The Commission on the Donor Experience is based on this premise. Its 28 detailed reports are available free online. I hope everyone in the sector will at least read the 6Ps document, the summary of the project summaries, for that sets out how fundraising will change.

The Commission’s reports are utterly different from a manual of current best practice. Let me tell you why: They are about people, not activities.

Much (by no means all) fundraising starts with the charity. It does really important work, and that work requires money. So the charity employs fundraisers. They organise activities to raise money from donors. In many cases the donor is delighted with the activity, so all is well.

But not always.

So turn that thinking through 90°. Start with the donors. Talk to them. Why do they support your charity rather than another one? What is their motivation? What do they want from their support of your charity? What are their aspirations and their needs? What do they dislike?

From all this, infer how you might give them a better experience. The plan you create from the first view may be the same as the one you create from the second view. But I doubt it. If I can convince you of that, you will do the right thing. Some examples.

The telephone

The Fundraising Regulator’s guidance says you “MUST NOT ask for a donation more than three times during that call”.

I am embarrassed that this needs to be an enforceable standard. It is so out of tune with the donor experience. This is about current practice. It is not about giving donors a great experience. Telephone fundraising is positioned as an activity. In many cases, the sole purpose is to get the donor to give a gift, or upgrade a regular gift. In some cases, financial results are posted on a blackboard. So, to prevent undue pressure, the Regulator says “three asks maximum”.

Start instead with looking at the call from the donor’s perspective, and giving her a great experience. Thank her, sincerely for her giving. Know about her current giving, and her giving history. Show her you know, and make her feel good about it. Tell her what her donations, together with others, have achieved. Sense her mood.

You might not ask for a donation at all. But you will leave her content, happy with her support of your charity and, importantly, pre-disposed to give more/again, when it suits her. And so make her inclined to support you for longer.

If, after the above, you ask her, and she says, clearly, “No, thank you, not at the moment”, you shouldn’t even consider asking again.   Not even a second time.

But neither should you cut the conversation short. The length of the call should be as the donor wishes. It might go on for two minutes after she says no. That isn’t the point. The point is her experience.

At the other extreme, if the conversation is positive, but meandering, and you ask for a gift but she doesn’t respond or is non-committal but wants to continue the conversation, I could well imagine a conversation where you might ask five times, without the donor feeling any undue pressure.

An “ask” (I hate the word) is not one-size-fits-all. It should be part of the conversation, part of the relationship.

My mantra: A donor should always feel better after the communication than before it. That is far more important than “three asks”.

The telephone is an extraordinary tool that lets us engage one-to-one with donors in real time. Pay telephone staff as you would other fundraisers; they are in communication with donors throughout their working day, unlike most of your fundraisers. Throw away scripts. Produce carefully crafted guidance notes that start with the feelings and thoughts of the donor. Empower the staff.

Corporate fundraising

Much corporate fundraising just sees companies as entities. A good fundraiser will find out about the company’s policies, its history of charitable support, etc.

But companies are made up of individuals: The decision makers re charitable support. The CSR team, if there is one. The directors, especially the managing director and chair. And the managers and staff. And even the customers.

Start with building relationships between key individuals in the company and the charity. Find out whether any of your existing corporate supporters or trustees or major donors, have friends or contacts within the company. With a substantial corporate supporter, get your CEO to work to build a relationship with the CEO of the company.

Once you have identified the key individuals, organise project visits, sandwich lunches with the CEO or maybe the services director or the finance director, depending on their interests.

Show the key individuals the impact of the partnership. Tell the individuals how important the company’s partnership is. Most important of all, give the individuals a good experience.

This all stems from a focus on corporate partnerships that focuses on the individual donor experience.

You will have far more experience than I which you can bring. But start by thinking of companies as a complex network of individuals, not a single entity.


Again, many fundraisers regard trusts as entities. Often with complex application procedures.   Many fundraisers I have spoken with regard “trusts” as the problem, not the fundraisers.

But again, turn your thinking through 90°. Trusts are made up of trustees, individuals who give freely of their time to try to ensure their founders’ wishes are met with the money held in trust. Does anyone really believe that any trustees deliberately go out of their way to make life difficult for applicants?

So, invite administrators of trusts to a group sandwich lunch with your CEO to find out more about the charity’s work. Encourage them to talk amongst themselves. (They all know of each other, but rarely meet.) Again, find out if you already have links to individual trustees. Use your insiders to engage them. All administrators and all individual trustees will insist they, as individuals, have no influence on the trustees’ corporate decision. It isn’t true.

Once you have a grant, don’t just say thank you, however profusely. Follow all I have said re companies above. Suppose a trust gives you a grant over three years. Keep the individuals engaged, in the way that they choose, so that at the end of the three years, they will want to support for another three years.

Be creative. Use your experience. Start with the individual.


Ken Burnett has produced the most extraordinary project on the use of emotion. Take half a day, and immerse yourself in it.

But, in two paragraphs:

Present the need powerfully. Engage the emotions.   Make the reader/viewer want to help, to give, and, having given, feel good that she has helped make the world a better place. If nurtured, she is likely to become a loyal donor, She has had a good experience.

Present the need shockingly. As shocking as possible. People may give, but from the emotion of guilt. They are giving to make the problem go away. Even if it “works” in the short term, it won’t create long-term support. The donor will not have had a good experience

The reality

I have just touched the surface. The CDE has produced 28 projects. 526 recommendations. 250 case studies. An extraordinary body of work, created by hundreds of experienced professionals. The sector coming together, like nothing before.

But it’s nowhere near as daunting as it sounds. Log on. Pick a topic. Read the summary. Between four and ten pages. Then stop. You will have gained a lot. The essence of thinking on that project, with key principles and recommendations. If you are enticed, read the whole project. Or jump to another project that intrigues you. Or follow one of the many links from one project to another.

It is an encyclopaedia, not a novel.


The purpose of the Commission is to transform fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is an extraordinary aspiration. It will take years, decades even, to make real.

But it must start with a belief by each individual in the sector that if we give donors a great experience, they will give more and give for longer. If you don’t believe that, then the Commission’s report is not for you.

If, however, you believe (as we do) that it is self-evident, then please approach our report with an open mind. Embrace it fully. Or implement the recommendations one at a time. Or somewhere, wherever, in between. Ideally, decide, as a whole organisation — fundraisers, CEO/SMT and trustees: What new promise will you make to donors? And tell them how, stage by stage, you will make it real.

Please don’t just ignore it.   There is too much distilled wisdom here.

Categories: Latest posts

Giles Pegram

Giles is vice-chair of the Commission on the Donor Experience, an initiative aimed at transforming fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. He is also a trustee of the Institute of Fundraising.


Eric Bryant · July 9, 2017 at 12:27

Great post with good supporting data, Giles. It’s great to acquire new donors. However, it’s even better, from a nonprofit growth perspective, to retain current donors. Facebook recently did a talk that showed the key to their growth was in user retention.

The same is true for nonprofits. Retaining donors, getting them to come back again and again to give, is an essential element in growing your revenues and donor base. If you want growth, focus on donor retention, not just acquisition.

We wrote a blog post on this subject as well. Read the full post here: https://www.gmg.cm/blog/

Giles Pegram CBE · July 9, 2017 at 12:43

Hi Eric,

Thank you.

You write: ” If you want growth, focus on donor retention, not just acquisition.”. It may not have been clear, but this was the whole thrust of the blog. I agree with you entirely.

Best, Giles

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