the poet, your donor and you

“Donor-focused messaging” and “donor-focused culture” are a couple of descriptions that we use to describe Oneicity’s guiding principle in communicating with donors.

Maya Angelou, poet, writer and civil rights activists has a quote that does a great job of explaining why this donor-focused thing works.

She wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That’s truth for every relationship: employees, partners, neighbors, customers, clients . . . and, of course, donors.

The donor-focused version might go like this: Donors will forget what you asked them to do, donors will forget what they gave, but donors will never forget how you made them feel.

There’s a positive and negative side to the principle. If you make it a pain to give, volunteer or interact with your organization, donors will carry that emotion away with them.

Your volunteer coordinator may think it’s worth it to put up barriers to entry for a volunteer for vague administrative reasons. What a volunteer may remember most is your forms and hassle NOT how amazing your work is.

Your online giving form maybe such a train wreck of bad technology that frustration with your digital ineptitude is the primary takeaway from a donor’s giving experience.

Or your heavy-fisted, guilt-focused fundraising might leave prospective donors feeling overwhelmed by the impossibility of your cause rather than a warm feeling of victory.

Unfortunately, those aren’t far-fetched illustrations. Each of those is a real-life example I’ve seen or heard in the last month or so. And I’m 100% certain, in each case, donors are experiencing the negative emotions I describe (at the least).

But imagine what a radical change it could be for your organization if how a donor felt was an important consideration in everything you communicated? If you make donors feel a thrill when they give to your cause, your income woes are solved. That’s what real donor-focused messaging is about.

This isn’t about just talking about the donor in your messaging. You really have to be willing to think through your donor’s experience and how you interact with donors.

Is this too much hassle? Are you kidding?

Too expensive? Nah. Donors who feel good about you will give more. And like it.

Let Maya’s words roll around in your head for a while and imagine connecting it to your donor communication.

It works. And donors love it. Which means you’ll love it, too.

What do you think about Maya’s quote? I always love to hear what you’re thinking.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: York College ISLGP)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

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