Everyone doing fundraising wants the same thing: money.

There are a few other things you may want, like a big donor base, people who give large gifts, and steady, predictable fundraising income.

But, have you ever stopped to think about what your nonprofit donors want?

Do you know why they give to your nonprofit?

Seems like if you want more money from them, it might be good to understand what they want and give it to them. After all, a happy donor is a repeat donor.

So what do nonprofit donors want?

It’s easy to get lazy or to skip over this. You’re busy trying to get things done, marking off items from your list.

I know. I’ve been there.

I remember the days of being a busy Development Director, when I was focused on getting grants submitted, direct mail out the door, and events planned. I didn’t have time to think about what donors wanted. I thought they were just happy to write their check.

That may have been true.  But that was nearly 15 years ago and things have changed.

Nonprofit donors today are smarter. They want more from us.

If you don’t know what your donors want, don’t guess. Find out.

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not just a thank-you letter. And it’s not a key chain or a book mark.

A well-written thank-you letter is important. But it’s just the first step.


Here’s what I believe donors want.

1. They want to know they can trust you. No one wants the charity they support to be the source of a scandal or to close up shop within a year. They want to know you’re dependable, responsible, and will do the work you say you will do.

2. They want to know their money was used wisely. No one wants to see money wasted, especially donors who give you their hard-earned cash. They want to know you can spend it wisely, and manage it well so that you get the most you can from it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be cheap. It means that if you had to sit down face-to-face with your donors and go over your nonprofit’s checkbook, there wouldn’t be anything to feel ashamed of.

3. They want to know lives were changed. People give to help you make change in the world. When donors give, they want to know that you set their gift to work and others were helped as a result. There’s nothing worse than making a donation to a nonprofit and wondering what happened to your money. Trust me, I’ve experienced this. Or making a donation and not hearing from the nonprofit until they show up asking for more money. It’s icky, and it makes me start looking for another nonprofit to support.

4. They want to feel good about their decision to give. Everyone loves to win. We like knowing that we made the right choice. Think about it – how many times have you made a hard decision and then second-guessed yourself about whether it was the right thing to do? Donors are no different. They want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit.

5. They want to feel that they made a difference. One of the biggest reasons people give is to make a difference. Lots of donors can’t stand to see others suffer, and they’re happy to partner with you to change lives. They believe that circumstances CAN be changed and they want to be part of making that happen.

Okay, so if that’s what donors want, have a look and see how you’re giving them to your donors now. If you’re not doing such a hot job, it’s okay. Most nonprofits aren’t. But, as Maya Angelou said “When you know better, do better.” Now that you know, it’s time to do something about it.


Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Freshen up your thank-you letters. Make sure every word in your letter builds trust and helps your donor feel good about giving. That means your letter can’t be self-focused and full of “we do this” and “we do that”.  Make it all about the donor – “Because of your help…” and “you made a difference…”.

2. Send consistent updates. Whether you do this through a newsletter, an update letter, or some other means, let people know what’s happened since they last gave. Give donors meaningful information about how their gift is being used. Again, keep it focused on the donor with info they’ll understand.

3. Offer a tour. If it’s appropriate, offer a tour so donors can see your organization in action. If a tour isn’t practical, shoot a video of your programs and share that with them. If neither of these work for you, get creative and come up with a way to give donors a taste of what your organization is doing.
4. Share stories on social media. This is an easy one. Show the “before” and “after” photos if possible. Talk about what life was like before and what it’s like now. Describe the painful “before” situation and then tell the happy ending. Include photos and video since most social media are built for them.
Brainstorm other ways you can find out what donors want and then give it to them. When donors believe they can trust you, that you’re doing good work, and that they made a good decision to give, they’ll do it again.And isn’t that what YOU want?

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