emotional connection in fundraising

What would it be like if you knew all your supporters, and they knew you? 

It would be fan-fricking-tastic! Gosh darn it; don’t you get tired of being one of the anonymous masses? Your donors feel that way too!

  • Don’t you just love it when you feel personally welcomed? 
  • When someone listens to you and you can tell they really heard you? 
  • When someone cares about you and asks how you’re doing?
  • When someone remembers your name, what you do, and what you told them last time you connected?

In Part 1 of this two-parter about secrets to upgrading nonprofit donors we looked at the difference between personal and personalization.

Embrace personalization, caring, and creating emotional connections and you will stand out like nobody’s business! 

Seriously, folks won’t know what hit them. In a good way.

Let’s look at some ways to personalize your donor’s experience so they feel an emotional connection to you.

Donor Thank You 

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes and consider what they want and need to hear after they’ve made a gift. I recently received two donor acknowledgements. One was akin to a receipt. It thanked me for my gift of X dollars made on such-and-such date. I filed it. The other thank you simply glowed! It told me I was awesome, gave me the director’s contact information, and invited me to reach out if I ever wanted to have coffee. I left it sitting on the kitchen counter to show my spouse, and to think about whether I wanted to take her up on her offer. Get the idea?

Here are some strategies for making your donor acknowledgement an emotionally connecting experience for your donor:

  • What if your thank you letter has a hand-written note from the executive director, or a board member, or even a staff member? Not just a slick, generic “thanks so much for making a difference,” but something at least as personal as “so glad you can come to the event this year; I’ll look for you there.” Even better would be to add something remembered from your last encounter. Something like: “Can’t wait to see what dress you’ll be wearing this year!” And then what if the note writer actually makes a point of looking for you at the event?
  • What if the same volunteer who called to thank you for your gift last year is the one who calls you this year? And what if they remember something from your call last year, make the connection, and ask you about it? Or if they simply look at the program for which you earmarked your last gift, reference it, and tell you how it’s doing — thanks to your help?
  • What if the thank you letter includes a testimonial from someone helped by the donor’s gift? And not just a dry recitation of facts, but a warm, personal, emotionally connecting story that ends with “I don’t know how I’d have survived without your help.”

Special Event

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes and consider how you can make this event special for them. I recently attended two events. At one, I felt like one of the unwashed masses. The check-in line took forever. When I finally got to the reservation table, I had to pick up my own name card because the staff was so overloaded. At the next event, I was warmly greeted by name. Another staffer was apparently alerted I had arrived, and they came over to greet me personally. Get the idea?  

Here are some strategies for making your special event an emotionally connecting experience for your donor:

  • What if the person who takes the event reservations is the same person who sits at the check-in table? And what if they greet each guest by name; then add a personal recollection like “Oh, hello Claire. So nice to meet you in person. I was the one who took your reservation. Is your puppy feeling better?”
  • What if you’re greeted at the door by a member of the board? And what if they thank you warmly for your support, tell you how much they care about getting to know you better, and hand you their business card so you can reach out to them personally after the event with any feedback and questions?
  • What if extra special care is taken with the seating chart? You end up seated next to someone with whom you connect emotionally, and you feel a sense of warmth and community being with people who share your values? 
  • What if the program portion of the event is all about vision, mission and values? Rather than simply walking away with an auction item, or having listened to some boring speeches, you leave with a lump in your throat, a tear in your eye and a feeling of emotional inspiration?

Donor Communications

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes and consider how you can make your messaging emotionally connecting and personally relevant. I recently received e-newsletters from two different organizations. One was filled with ‘announcements,’ including the fact they’d recently rebranded, had hired a new program director and had been given some sort of award. They were rightfully proud of these accomplishments; nonetheless, they didn’t mean much to me. The other organization sent an e-newsletter that led with an emotional video story about someone who’d been helped. There was also an invitation to a free event where I could connect with other like-minded supporters. And there was a “how to keep your parents safe” article that made me feel cared for, even though I wasn’t a direct client. Get the idea?

Here are some strategies for making your donor communications emotionally connecting experiences for your donor:

  • What if the newsletter you receive leads with hand-selected articles about the program for which you earmarked your donation? What if everything you receive is personally tailored through list segmentation, so that nothing seems generic? [Expert Tip: Look for people who regularly visit specific project pages. These people may not want to make a general donation, but may be interested in channeling their contributions to a specific area where they feel an emotional connection. Reach out to see if they’re willing to help fund that specific initiative. Tailoring your outreach with a personalized approach will go a long way toward securing a partner and contributor who is willing to upgrade their gift.]
  • What if you receive a card on your birthday? And not just a plain card with a computer-generated signature, but one with a personal note from someone you know. Or one with a special gift for something you like (they noticed you always buy ice cream at their café… or attend the jazz series… or give to save endangered tigers; then enclose a coupon or sticker related to your area of interest)?
  • What if someone noticed you weren’t feeling well one day; then called a day or two later to check in on you? What if they asked if there was anything they could do to help? What if they went that extra mile to make an emotional connection to you?  

Now that you have a handle on the idea, I’m sure you can think of many similar strategies to make your donor feel special. Just remember these words:


The chances are good that any of the personal, caring, emotionally connecting strategies described above would make you feel welcomed, cared for, favorably impressed and inclined to make a larger gift next time you were asked.

Remember: People are all people.

This is a piece of fundraising advice I received early in my career that has stuck with me to this day. 

Even businesses and foundations are people. Wealthy. Poor. Old. Young. Everyone seeks emotional connection.

Treat everyone like people. Don’t put them at arm’s length just because they may be different from you. Don’t be afraid of their status or size. Find a way to connect. And don’t forget they aren’t stereotypes; no one is the same. That’s the beauty of being human. 

Just be human. 

Philanthropy means “love of humankind.”

With the digital revolution there’s been a tendency to become more robotic. Don’t let tools overshadow people. Much has changed, but people are still people. 

People need people. People crave relationships. People are driven to connect tribally and form communities. So moan about the digital world all you want, but don’t despair. It doesn’t mean you can no longer connect with people emotionally, and in real time. In fact, it means you can connect with people 24/7. Just do it with your distinct, caring, and special personal touch.

Yes, it’s work. But if you want to turn your donors into repeat and larger donors, it’s well worth the effort.

Find a way to get up close and PERSONAL with at least one important prospect this week. You’ll find it rewarding. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Go make your own luck!

donor love and loyalty

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.