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Here’s a question to kick-start your Monday: Who’s the hero?

Is it the organisation that feeds the poor or saves wildlife or provides free medical care to those in need? Or, is it Nana Judy who gives $35 once a year to support said causes?

No need for a drumroll, because we all know what the answer is … right? Hint: if you shouted ‘me!’ or ‘my organisation’ you’d be really, really wrong.

No matter how little you may think someone gives, or how often, each and every donor should be treated as a hero. It’s what we call donor-centric communications. In other words, putting the donor front and centre of everything. And it’s so important, we’ve written a blog about it.



Do donors trust you?

An article by non-profit consultant Simone Joyaux says that donor relationships can deepen or fray depending on the trust you build. We wholeheartedly agree. But before we look at building trust, let’s go over what not to do.

Simone’s article outlines some key things that fundraisers do wrong when writing newsletters – a popular method of communication.

1. Content misses the mark. In other words, donors don’t care about what you’re writing.

2. The donor isn’t centre-stage.

3. The tone is clinical, rather than warm and friendly.

4. Emotional triggers are skipped over.

5. There’s too much information on the organisation, and not enough real stories.

6. The writing is poor with lousy readability.

7. Headlines do nothing to add value.

You can’t expect to build trust with your donors if you’re making these mistakes. So, how exactly do you build trust, and therefore loyal donors? Here are our top tips for making your communications donor centric.

Kill the ‘thask’

‘Thask’ is a made-up word by donor relations guru Lynne Wester. It’s her pet hate, and she describes the ‘thask’ like this:

It’s when an organisation goes out to communicate with its donor base and sends them a thank you, only to ruin it by not resisting the urge to ask for more. We just can’t help ourselves. But we MUST. We have to take a stand against thasking and do the right thing.”

Imagine if every time your friend talked to you, they wanted something. That friendship wouldn’t last long, would it? It’s the same when you’re building relationships with donors.

When they make a gift, say thank you in a timely fashion – ideally a phone call or a letter signed by the CEO. But whatever you do, don’t include another ask.


Make it all about the donor 

Flick through your latest newsletter, or retention piece, or even your annual report, and you should see statements like this:

“Your generosity is saving countless lives.”
“Discoveries happen because of you.”
“Your ongoing support is helping people living with disability.”

This is donor-centric language. It tells them that your good work is only made possible because of their continued support. Donors love this. They can see how vital their support is to achieving their goals, and it goes a long way to nurturing loyalty and longevity.


Keep donors informed

Give them tangible outcomes of projects or services that their donations helped to fund.

Think impact reports (to update donors on where their money is being spent and progress to date), newsletters with highly tailored content, or intimate gatherings to provide a personal update on the projects they are funding.


Get them involved

Cultivating good donor relationships takes time. One of the best ways to instil confidence and trust is to show donors you care.

Invite them to a thank you party. Ask them to join a focus group for their valued opinion. Interview donors to share their philanthropic story. Select high-value donors to serve on committees, where their skills can be best used.


Be friendly 

Have you ever walked into a store and been greeted by a stone-faced salesperson who never smiles, doesn’t acknowledge you and behaves like your requests are tiresome chores? If so, I bet you left feeling angry and upset.

The same goes for your donors. If your fundraising staff are friendly, warm, courteous and respectful, you’ll create an enjoyable experience for donors, and they’ll be more open to giving.


Appeal to their emotional needs

Why do your donors give?

If you ask them, you’ll understand their feelings and interests. It’s golden information, because it allows you to fine-tune your letters with content that will trigger their emotions – and therefore compel them to give.

According to Simone Joyaux, there are seven emotions that ‘move cash’, so to speak. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Anger: This is wrong! I must do something!

2. Fear: If I do nothing, my children will never get to see this beautiful species in the wild.

3. Exclusivity: Me? You want me to join your special group of donors?

4. Flattery: You’re absolutely right. I am special because I keep giving to you.

5. Greed: I want more art in the community and giving to you makes sure great art stays.

6. Guilt: I know turtles are dying because of my poor recycling skills. I’ll feel better when I give to that environmental group.

7. Salvation: My gifts effect change and make the world a better place.

It’s our job to play to these emotions through the stories we tell, the language we use, the concepts and design. Understanding your donors is a powerful tool indeed.


Don’t be lazy with your words 

Poor writing can turn a donor off.

But what constitutes poor writing, you ask? Well, language that is too wordy, paragraphs that are too long and content that is just plain boring.

Why utilise longer words when diminutive expressions succeed just as effectively?
Why use long words when small ones work just as well?

Keep your words simple and your paragraphs short. Bite-sized chunks make it so much easier to read.

In fact, while you’re at it, have a go at writing for scanners. For example, make important points bigger to show the reader where to look first. Or capture their attention by using a really, really short paragprah.

Like this.

Load your headings and sub-headings with meaningful, information-carrying words that tell your donor what to expect. Use the active voice. Start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘I’. Write at a Year 7 level. Make it readable with a serif typeface and plenty of white space.

Unlearn all the rules you learnt in school English class and have a crack at the above techniques.


Focus on retention

Up to 60% of new donors never give again.

Shocking, right? We get that finding new donors is hard. We also get that it’s more expensive than ever. So a thoughtful, well-planned retention strategy should be top of your priority. After all, if you love your donors they will love you back. And they will keep giving, year after year, because they feel valued and engaged.

A focus on retention is absolutely vital to the success and longevity of your fundraising. That means understanding the ladder of loyalty, targeting the right kind of donors, profiling your donors to understand their needs, tracking the churn for better insights, tailoring content and really, truly showing huge amounts of love to the people who support you.


Read more about turning your donors into life-long friends with our info-packed retention blog.


The success of your fundraising is dependant on the relationships you build with your donors

It’s a big statement. But it’s true.

As Lynne Wester says, donors want a fulfilling experience in exchange for their generosity. They want access and information. They want to feel valued and engaged.

So listen to them. Understand their needs. Put them front and centre in your communications. Go through the above checklist and make sure everything you do is donor-centric, and we guarantee you’ll be rewarded with happy, loyal, life-long supporters.



Two of our most successful campaigns – I Am for Breast Cancer Network Australia and The Decade That Was for Monash University – are 100% donor-centric. Think impact reports, highly personalised thank you letters, a genuine focus on retention, thoughtful design and language that speaks to the donor.