What DO donors want from you?

[photo l-r: SOFII’s Joe Burnett; Damian O’Broin, founder Ask Direct; Canadian John Lepp, co-founder Agents of Good; Mark Phillips, founder Bluefrog London; in Damian’s favorite Dublin pizzeria, scheming during Summer School 2016]

Bluefrog London has studied this very question for years. Mark Phillips’ report follows, below. >> Just in time for Giving Tuesday and the year-end madness.

It started with a simple subject line: “Had a thought.”

Emailed to a few colleague-sweetie-pals: Simone Joyaux, John Lepp, Jen Love, Ian MacQuillin, Damian O’Broin, Mark Phillips, Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang and Sean Triner (in alpha order).

Ian and I had been exchanging elbow blows, you see. That’s him, staring at the camera. In a great pub near a fascinating London spot, the Geffrye Museum of the Home (riveting displays of changes in English domestic life through the centuries, including the rise of the middle class; great gift shop and café). Those are all fundraisers in the photo, by the way, relaxing after the Rogare Away Day. Think-tanking is thirsty work.

As head of Rogare, the fundraising think tank inside the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, Ian planned to launch fundamental research into the very nature of donor-centricity, asking questions from a hundred different directions …

… a plan which I’d snottily predicted would give fundraisers something useful to work with around the year 2030. My tosser challenge to Ian: “Defining donor-centricity is easy. Talk to the people who do it.”

Almost everyone chimed in

All sorts of responses came in. Simone had things to say about practical donor-centricity. John and Jen. Damian. Ian, naturally. Other Jen. Adrian. And two larger-scale esteemed practitioners: Sean Triner and Mark Phillips.

Sean Triner correctly noted that donor-centricity was not always necessary in fundraising appeals.

His mountain-top perspective?

He’s a maths guy who co-founded Pareto, Australia’s busiest, most successful direct mail and telephone fundraising house. Pareto also may well be the most analytical fundraising agency on the planet, all things considered.

As host and driving force behind Australia’s national roundup of charity metrics, State of the Donation, Pareto annually crunches vast quarries of stats filed from a majority of the country’s nonprofits and does the same analytics for its clients, constantly tweaking campaigns to improve success and build on knowledge.

So, again….

Good, conventional offers can pull just as well, with or without much donor-centricity, Sean wanted you (and me) to realize. Yes, donor-centricity is important. But it’s not the whole game.

Donor-centricity in a nutshell? Your culture

Donor-centricity, as I understand it, is mostly an attitude … an attitude adopted by the entire organization ultimately, if you aim to maximize your charitable income.

When people longingly rattle on about instilling, building, inoculating, ramming down the staff and board’s throats a so-called “culture of philanthropy,” what they are really talking about is the attitude of donor-centricity.

What is that attitude … in a nutshell?

The donor is a hero. And deserves enormous credit. Not just a name on a list, but embracing gratitude. In highly visible locations.

Truly “donor-centered” communications (appeals, thanks, reports, websites) prominently feature the donor’s participation in the mission. The organization’s work is a means to this end: the donor helps the recipient. The details of the work are secondary.

You can easily see why NGO’s of inordinate pride so strongly resist switching to a donor-centric voice. NGOs want the work to matter more than the act of giving.

Which is fine as far as it goes. But a prideful, organization-centric attitude raises less money, as Rogare will sooner or later discover. Raising less money in turns cheats the mission of growth and prosperity.

Then along came Mark P. with his 4 insights

Mark Phillips had a response every fundraiser MUST READ, about donor “need states.” To quote….

Great discuss everyone. But now that “donor needs” has been mentioned, my ears really have pricked up.


This has been Bluefrog’s approach since back in the mid 2000s. We have researched the hell out of this and identified 4 key need states that we can’t really get any deeper on.

They are…

To help

Yep. people want to do something to solve a problem. But they may also want to do something to demonstrate solidarity (perhaps with an in-mem gift).

Overcome helplessness

Disease, emergencies, child abuse, cruelty. Whichever way you want to look at it, problems like this can leave us feeling helpless. Giving empowers us. It removes guilt. It allows us to engage with the conversation. When we give to hospitals, it even helps us gain some form of control over our healthcare.

Help me grow

Status is the big one here. We can demonstrate to ourselves and others who we are and what we believe. Great treatment from charities also helps us see ourselves as important partners. That’s why those greeting card and sticker premium packs might not be such a bad idea after all. They allow people show off about how charitable they are!

Engage me

This is about treating people well and entertaining them. You might remember my Jeremy Bentham head pack for imperial College? That’s a premium that entertains. It’s about delivering stuff in a way that makes people want to open not just this appeal – but the next one as well.

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