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January 3, 2020

Philanthropy’s Landscape Is Changing. Donors’ Hearts Aren’t.



As fundraisers, the way we communicate with our donors is constantly changing. What works today might not work tomorrow. For example, 10 years ago nonprofits didn’t need to think about Google Ads or Facebook. Today, Donor Advised Funds are the hot topic in the industry. On the other hand, email is less successful than it’s been in years past. And the role of direct mail continues to evolve.

In midst of a changing landscape, some nonprofits fear they will miss out, so they chase a shiny new fundraising object.

But what motivates your donors — their hearts — remains constant. To put it simply, your donors aren’t changing, their giving methods are. And this creates new opportunities to build strong donor relationships that didn’t exist before.


Here’s what matters most: How well are you building relationships with your donors today?

Each donor supports an average of 4.5 charities. Are you at the top of her list? Your charity should seek to be her number one nonprofit — so above everything else, yours is the organization she won’t stop giving to.

Here’s how to become her #1:

  • She gives you money because your charity’s mission tugs at her heartstrings. What causes that tug? These donor research studies can give you the inside scoop of why she trusts you with her money to solve a problem she cares about.
  • Figure out how she wants to connect with you. Pay attention to her channel preferences, (both the channel in which she wants to receive information and the channel in which she wants to transact her financial support).
  • Invest in donors just like her — who are already on your file. Are you spending too much money to acquire new donors and not investing enough in building relationships with the right ones already in your database?

Since she gives to 3 or 4 other charities including you, you may ask yourself why it is so important to be #1? Because her top charity is the one that she will be most likely to remember in her will.

Maintaining your presence in your donor’s heart is a long-term proposition and requires long-term planning and commitment.  

Much of what nonprofits and their fundraising agencies do is based on what can be measured in the short term. But building a strong donor relationship requires lifetime attention.


Almost by definition, our narrow, short-term measurements (at the campaign level or through a year-over-year ROI lens) and tactics (where every piece of communication has a component of desperation in it) create numerous problems. Donors feel like we’re squeezing more money out of them with every appeal. And that’s not building a relationship.

I believe in what we say at TrueSense — that we’re the conduit for donors with heroic hearts who are nourished by the act of giving. That we help them build strong relationships with the missions that touch their hearts.

As a fundraising agency leader, it’s my job to find the balance between how we achieve this long-term success for our nonprofit clients, while still meeting their short-term expectations.

In this new year, and new decade, I challenge you as I challenge myself to look beyond a five-year growth plan. Let’s invest in strong, long-term donor relationships so you can become the #1 charity for your donors.


Committed to donor-centered fundraising in 2020? Subscribe to Heroic Fundraising today. Throughout the year, we'll be sharing tips and insights with our readers on how to live out a donor-centered approach to fundraising.

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