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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

The Great Connection: Engaging Donors in Your Mission

Most people, by their very nature, want to help others. Though not universal, it's true that people continue to volunteer and contribute money in support of organizations doing good work in our communities.

Periodically I run into someone (and even at times a fellow fundraising professional!) who argues, "People aren't as giving as they used to be." Data about giving suggests otherwise. In fact, Americans' giving over the past 40 years has averaged 2.2% of household income. Even today, in the midst of what many are calling "the Great Recession," giving hovers at the same rate as a percentage of income.

So, why do individuals contribute money to nonprofit organizations?

Each of us has different interests and concerns. While most of those concerns are focused on our own needs (I have to remember to pay the mortgage this week. What am I going to feed the kids for dinner? I'm late for work and almost out of gas!), we also have individual concerns that are more outwardly-focused (Why are there so many homeless people on the street these days? I wonder how my church can pay for its new roof? Who will take care of kids who are taken from dangerous family situations?)

For individuals who care about helping to alleviate a community problem (homelessness, for example), there are three options:

  • Do nothing (which will also do nothing to alleviate their need to help!)
  • Hand out money to homeless people they see on the street (which may help a little bit in the short term, but won't reach many people in need)
  • Support an organization (through donations and/or volunteerism) that helps homeless people on a scale that reaches many people with programs designed to have a long-term effect

When individuals give to nonprofit organizations serving a particular societal need or set of needs, they are attempting to meet their own philanthropic objectives. Those objectives are different for every individual; that's the reason some give to human services organizations, some to help animals in shelters, others to environmental organizations, and some to opera companies.


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But nonprofit organizations (and those fundraising on their behalf) don't always recognize that giving reflects donors' personal philanthropic wishes. In their fundraising zeal, they are too often focused on the organization's needs: "We really need your help!"

The truth is, donors don't support organizations because the organization needs help. They support those organizations that they perceive as meeting their own philanthropic motivations.

Supporting a nonprofit organization is rarely the donor's intent; the nonprofit organization is simply a conduit through which a donor might meet his/her philanthropic objectives.

Why is that important? For several reasons (let's continue with the homelessness example):

Donors have options
In many communities, there may be more than one organization helping people in need of food and shelter. A donor will select the one (or ones) they believe are doing the best job, and they may not remain loyal to an organization if they perceive another is doing the job better.

Donors need information
As donors become more savvy, they are taking a harder look at organizations' board compositions, the expertise of staff, and the finances, as well as — thanks to the many online sources for information about nonprofit organizations — weighing the financial effectiveness of organizations before writing a check.

Donors need to see results
As donors become more informed about the organization and make a decision to give, they also want follow-up that tells them how their donations were used. Reporting program results (and especially stories of individuals served) can go a long way to strengthen donor loyalty.

Donors need a personal connection
By recognizing that philanthropy is ultimately about people-helping-people, and that donors see the organization to which they contribute as a conduit for that philanthropic effort, we must do more to connect the donor to those being served by the organization. Providing opportunities for donors to hear the stories of, hear directly from, or even meet those whom they have helped can go a long way toward helping the donor understand that his/her philanthropic objectives are being met.

By approaching fund development not as an effort to benefit the organization, but rather as an opportunity to help individual philanthropists meet their giving objectives, our nonprofits will better satisfy the need the donors are seeking, which, in the end, will bring more donor loyalty and more sustainable donated revenue.

Clyde W. Kunz, CFRE, is owner of Clyde Kunz and Associates, LLC, which for the past 10 years has provided organizational development and fundraising consultation services to nonprofit organizations. He has served as President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southern Arizona Chapter; as Chair of LEAVE A LEGACY® Southern Arizona; and as President of the Planned Giving Roundtable of Southern Arizona.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog