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December 3, 2021
Is Your Organization Sufficiently Donor-Centered?
By Simone P. Joyaux

Simone P. Joyaux
Simone Joyaux
“Donor-centric” is another way of saying “building trust.” A donor’s relationship with your organization deepens or frays mostly based on how much trust you can create in three areas.

Those areas are:
  • Trust that donors play an essential, vital, central role in your mission’s success.
  • Trust that your organization does worthwhile things with donor gifts.
  • Trust that your organization conducts its operations efficiently.
Sadly most organizations focus on their own needs and why their good work requires donations. That’s not good.

The donor-centered organization puts the donor at the center ”“ of communications, stories, and thank-yous. Here’s how to think and talk this way with your donors: “Because of your gifts, we do this vital work.” “Your gifts stopped the river’s pollution.” “Only with your gift can we feed families.” “Because of you, great things happen.”

What Research Says
To understand what a donor-centered organization means, read the research about what donors want. For example, according to Adrian Sargeant, considered one of the world’s leading fundraising researchers, the following components matter in the fundraising relationship: thanking donors for their gifts, informing donors how their money is spent, responding quickly when donors contact the organization, being polite in communications, and more.

Sargeant has found that the overall perception of service quality provided by the fundraising department dramatically affects donor retention. No surprise there. We all know that quality of service is important, critically important.

But how do donors define service quality? By gaining confidence knowing how donations are used and feeling that their gifts are being spent appropriately, interacting with employees who understand donors’ need, receiving courteous and timely communications, and more.

And guess what? Sargeant’s research tells us that almost all donors are not hugely satisfied with the quality of service provided by the fundraising department.

Loyalty Is so Important
A donor-centered organization means pretty much the same thing as customer-centered company. And when you’re customer-centered and donor-centered, you build loyalty.

The key concept is “donor loyalty.” You want loyal donors, just as any business depends on loyalty. And just as loyalty is the “Holy Grail” of business, loyalty is the “Holy Grail” of fundraising.

Think about business for a minute ”“ your favorite restaurant, the garage where you take your car, about a recent airplane trip. You know you had a great experience when you felt you were the focus of concerned attention.

Host a conversation with your staff colleagues. Facilitate a conversation with your development committee. Ask board members to share a few good (and bad) customer experiences. Explore the comments made. Listen to how happy (or unhappy) people are about their customer experiences.

Dale Carnegie, the 1930s self-help guru, said it so very well: “You’ll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want, and start helping other people get what they want.”

Help your donors get what they want. Is that something you and your board members and staff colleagues understand? Donors don’t give to your mission. Donors give through your organization to achieve their own desires and fulfill their own aspirations.

Here’s more to think about: Don’t treat your donors like ATM machines. Giving is not a financial transaction. Giving is one of the most personal acts anyone can make. Respect and honor that. Put your donors in the center of your organization.

How Does Your Organization Measure Up?
Host another conversation with those same people you spoke with about customer centrism. Now focus on donors, your donors. Is your organization doing all those customer-centered type things for your donors?

For example: Do you send out very personal donor thank-you letters within 48 hours of receipt of a gift, making sure that your donor knows you received it and how important the gift is? Do you correct any mistakes quickly and efficiently? Is your donor newsletter so donor-centered that your donors understand the impact they have? Do you make sure that your donor feels like a hero...because she is a hero, you know.

Increase Your Organization’s Donor-Centric Quotient
You can do this. You can build a more donor-centered organization. There are so many useful tips provided by so many experts in the field. Here are just a few:
  • Jeff Brooks’ free daily blog,
  • Ken Burnett, Relationship Fundraising and The Zen of Fundraising
  • Lisa Sargeant’s Loyalty Newsletter at
  • Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships, co-authored by Tom Ahern and Simone Joyaux
  • Visit the Free Download Library at Print out the Donor Centric Pledge and compare your performance to the pledge.
  • ”“ Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration
Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE, Joyaux Associates, consults in fundraising, board development, and strategic planning. Contact her at Copyright — Simone P. Joyaux.
January 2013
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