Request a Demo Search

3 Ways to Treat Donors Like More Than Just ATMs


I had lunch with a friend several weeks ago who just started a new job at a well-known nonprofit organization in town. He recounted a story of meeting with a past donor whose first words to my friend were: “Sorry – I’m not giving any more money.”

So my friend began asking questions. What happened was the donor had gone through some significant business challenges that were very public. He was forced to back away from supporting organizations that he had a long history with. During this hard time, not one of the organizations that he had supported over the years called to check on him.

In his opinion, the organizations assumed that he could not give financially so they did not have a reason to call. He was hurt. Therefore, he made the decision to stop supporting these organizations that at one time were a big part of his life.

So what can we take away from this short story?

1. Develop relationships with constituents that go beyond the financials.

We talk all the time in the non-profit world about “building better relationships” with donors, but what does that mean? So many times, we treat our donors like ATM machines. Simone Joyaux of Joyaux Associates captures this idea well: “Giving is not a financial transaction. Giving is one of the most personal acts anyone can make. But too often, in the press for money, organizations focus on money rather than donors… Treating giving like a financial transaction is a quick way to lose donors.” 

Find out why your donors gave their first gift. What makes them tick? Learn about what other activities they are involved in. What are their likes and dislikes? Do they prefer Twitter to Facebook? Do they like to travel, play golf, or participate in competitive eating competitions? Okay, maybe that last one is a bad example… but you get the point.

And in times of financial hardships, this relationship can be strengthened exponentially if you show you care more about the person than his or her checkbook.

2. Keep constituents engaged with non-financial interactions.

There are many ways to keep constituents engaged beyond monetary measures. Are your constituents volunteering or attending events? Are they still opening your email newsletters? Are they initiating interactions with you and being a cheerleader for your organization? By tracking these types of touch-points, you can still assess how engaged they are even if they are not actively giving.

The importance of non-financial engagement cannot be overstated. Even if a donor is not able to give a dollar, she can still invite people to events, talk about your organization through social media, or volunteer to help your important cause.

3. Never assume past donors do not want to hear from us – regardless of their financial situation or giving trends.

Stay connected to donors through personalized and appropriate communication strategies. According to Tom Belford from his blog The Agitator, “The idea is to think broadly about the types of personally relevant interactions you can offer each of your supporters. But – ideally – it should be interaction that can lead to some sustained flow of communications that you can maintain with the individual supporter.”

This maintained back-and-forth communication will help prevent donor attrition. Even in the case study I reference above, if the donor had been communicated with in an appropriate way, he most likely would have donated again when his financial situation improved.

Additionally, if there was a better relationship in place, maybe the donor would have been comfortable sharing his situation with the organization. Then, this ongoing and mutually beneficial communications would have continued even through the donor’s financial hardship.

So my friend’s challenge is to rebuild this relationship with non-financial touch points. He’s invited him to play golf. He’s kept him in touch with what his organization is doing. Hopefully, in time, this former-donor will become engaged again and use his talents and gifts for the advancement of the organization’s cause.

Let’s remember that our donors are more valuable to our organization than just the money they give. Lets’ strive to treat each relationship as a vital part of our organization’s mission no matter the financial commitment.

img via

gift acknowledgment program

Related Articles


  • Viki Hayden Ward

    Interestingly, this is almost the exact same title for a blog I wrote recently on hand signing ask letters! If you wouldn’t ask a friend for cash without speaking to them personally, why would you do it to a donor? Check it out here;
Leave a reply