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You can learn a lot about how your organization relates to its donors by asking yourself these four simple questions.

Whenever we ask for a donor’s support, we implicitly if not explicitly tell the donor why he or she should give. And in doing so, we express what we believe to be the donor’s most basic and important motivations. Unfortunately, few organizations stop to think about how they’re asking for support and what that says about how they relate with their donors.

So, as you’re framing your appeal for support, here are the four questions to consider. Each question arises from different assumptions about your donors’ fundamental motivations—and if you’re concerned about improving and strengthening relationships with your donors, you’d be well advised to focus on ways to answer “No” to #s 1 and 2  and “Yes” to #s 3 and 4:

1. Are you asking donors to save your organization or your cause?

It may seem strange, but this approach appears a lot in fundraising. If you answer yes to this question, chances are things aren’t going well or, at least, you’d like to give that impression to donors. But whatever the circumstances, if you’re framing your appeal in this way, you’re implicitly assuming that donors will give first and foremost from a sense of fear and guilt (How could they not give if things are so dire?). And while this approach may create urgency, it rarely builds long-term relationships and trust among your donors.

2. Are you asking donors to lend a helping hand?

Here’s an approach that draws on the donor’s empathy, and little more. If this is how you’re asking for support, you’re probably used to telling donors about the good work your organization has accomplished—in fact, you’re doing so much good work that you need your donors to pitch in a little more. While people may feel inclined to contribute out of a sense of goodwill, this motivation rarely deepens over time, and thus donors approached primarily in this way feel little reason to increase their commitment over time.

3. Are you asking donors to invest in your work for a future return?

For more sophisticated organizations, the language of investment plays a central role in asking for money. While in many cases this stems from a fixation on the business world, what makes this approach effective is that it activates a sense of self-interest on the donors’ part. Giving to an organization that presents its program in this way gives the donor skin in the game and a return on investment.

4. Are you asking donors to join your community and become part of a movement?

It’s no wonder religious organizations and universities are the most common recipients of charitable giving. After all, what organizations lay a stronger claim to a person’s identity? Likewise, organizations that shape their message to donors in terms of belonging to a community and fostering a movement enjoy much stronger, more fruitful relationships with donors. If your organization hasn’t considered ways to create this sense of community and “belongingness” among supporters, it would be worth considering.

So, if you’re game for a little self-examination, give it a shot. You can learn a lot about how your organization relates to its donors by asking these four simple questions.


American Philanthropic helps purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft clear and compelling communications, and achieve greater influence. To learn more, visit AmericanPhilanthropic.com and check out its ongoing fundraising trainings throughout the year.

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