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September 12, 2018
Real-Life Campaign Success: What It Takes
September 26, 2018

It’s Always Best to Ask Your Donors

This week we’ve been thinking a lot about the wisdom of listening to donors. We’ve had several conversations with clients and colleagues where the conversation has led us all to ask: “We don’t know, but let’s ask the donors.”

Analysis and statistics are important, but they won’t tell you everything.

It’s key to get donor input in any big decision around fundraising strategy. You get good information – often that “ah-ha” moment – that numbers won’t tell you.

There’s another big benefit, too. In the process of getting that information you engage donors and bring them closer to the organization.

Here are a few examples of times in our experience when asking the donors made a difference to the outcome:

Creating a corporate giving program: A client of ours got a group of corporate donors together to ask their ideas for a new corporate giving structure. The group came up with an entirely new way of soliciting and stewarding corporate donors annually rather than through an event. Not only did corporate participation increase with this new structure, but the work turned out to be less for the staff.

Designing an event: We know an organization that felt that their gala was too much work for the revenue they were getting. They cancelled the event without asking their donors, and went with a completely different kind of solicitation. But their donors didn’t like the change, and giving lagged. The organization went to their donors and created a new type of event that was smaller, but more engaging for their donorsand more profitable for the organization.

Improving a donation page: One of the direct marketing teams we’ve worked with consistently gathers a group of donors together on a webinar to ask their view of the group’s donation page. This has led to all kinds of changes that made the donor experience better online.

Determining donor benefits: In my own fundraising experience, I’ve gone to planned giving donors, middle donors, and major donors and asked each group what they want in terms of benefits. Do they want a tote bag? Do they want more up-to-date information? Do they want to get together with each other? It’s always an enlightening experience, and you never get the answer that you think you’re going to get.

Doing a feasibility study: The ultimate form of “asking your donors” is a feasibility study, and this, too can be a real ah-ha moment for many organizations. We recently did a study where nearly all the participants said that they supported the work, but not the messaging of the campaign. Luckily this organization caught that sentiment in time and will save themselves a whole bunch of sleepless nights and extra work by re-tooling now rather than half-way through the campaign.

The fact is that we often make assumptions about our donors and prospects that just aren’t right. We see things through our own lens and assume that the donors will see it that way, too.

Don’t make that mistake. Get out there now and ask you donors what they think. Yeah, it may not be statistically significant, but I guarantee you that it will move your fundraising forward.


  1. Karen says:

    Excellent article and view. I am surprised how much our university relies solely on analytics now to the detriment of the developing the personal relationships with donors. I believe long term this will affect giving. I hope this article once shared with be an A-HA moment for some of our leaders.

  2. Leslie Allen says:

    Thanks so much, Karen, for your comments! I think it’s easy to slip into just looking at data, but it’s such an incomplete picture. True relationships of any kind come from sitting across the table from someone and looking them in the eye.
    Thanks again for your insight!

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