We can learn a lot about donor relations from Walt Disney.

One of the best examples is along Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. To build donations, donor loyalty and retain more donors, we need to look through the windows of our worlds just as Walt looked through the windows of his.

Ask anyone to name his or her favorite land in any Disney park and the answer is not likely to be Main Street USA. Main Street is the entrance to all the wonderful things that lay beyond it. Rarely does any guest say he or she spends much time there. At least, they probably don’t think they do. However, they may spend more time on Main Street than they realize as they enter and get lost in its carefully controlled environment.

Disney’s imagineers pay a great deal of attention to this street that begins with a train station and ends with a castle. It is the first and last thing guests see, and thus sets the tone for the day and leaves the parting images in guests’ minds at the end of the day. It is the first impression and the last memory guests have of their visit.

Everything on Main Street is conscientiously crafted to give the guest a better experience. The sidewalks are painted a special color red to contrast with the grass and paint on the buildings. It is almost impossible to take a bad photo on Main Street. The sidewalk is also red to remind you that you are the guest of honor as you walk along your red carpet to begin the adventure ahead.

But Disney’s best secret on Main Street is the way he built the windows. The windows at the Disney parks are different than the ones in our homes or businesses. Disney windows are built lower to the ground so toddlers can see inside more easily. If they were built at a standard height, children would have a more difficult time seeing inside them. Walt Disney wanted everyone who came to the parks to have the same experience. It was imperative that parents and children could enjoy the park equally. So he insisted the windows be built lower to the ground so young ones could see inside as easily as their parents.

Some of the most important things we do for donors will never be directly noticed or appreciated by donors (or maybe even supervisors), but the results will be real and significant.

Walt Disney never received a letter from a parent thanking him for the lower windows. No one probably even noticed, or cared. Yet, every parent had a little easier time because he or she was not continually picking up a child so the child could see what was inside. Children did not feel left out of the fun and parents did not have aching backs at the end of the day. And, from Disney’s point of view, if children can see inside more easily, they can also point mom and dad to all the things they wanted to buy and take home.

What height are our windows? Do we build them at “standard height,” or from a donor’s point of view? While we don’t have a Main Street U.S.A. and we may not even have actual windows at our organizations, we do have contact with donors. Do we ask them to stand on their tiptoes to see in our world, or do we make our world more inviting to them? Walt Disney was careful in everything he did, including rejecting the accepted standards for window height, opting instead to build his world and his windows for the ease of his guests.

When we do anything with donors, make sure we build our windows to their height by asking these questions. Do we do something because:

  • It is what everyone else is doing?
  • It is easy for us, or easy for our donors?
  • It is the way we have always done it?

For example, to build windows like Disney:

  • Talk more about mission, less about money.
  • Have a real person answer the phone, not a computer.
  • Make business cards easy to read (that fax number on our cards can probably be left off now).

If you have to spell out your email address, get a new one – and by the way, they’re free. A donor should be able to remember your email address without writing it down.

And remember most of all, make sure your first and last impressions, like Main Street, set the stage and set the memories for your donors. We all have windows we give donors. Let’s make sure the windows we give them make it easy for them to see into our world, and step into it. When we build our windows as Walt did, our donors will be happier, more engaged and apt to give more to our organizations.

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to Hospice of Marshall County.


Wayne Olson

Wayne Olson

Fundraising Consultant, Keynote Speaker, Trainer at Wayne Olson Consulting LLC
Wayne Olson is the author of three books on Fundraising and Donor Relations, including his new book "The Disney Difference," published by Theme Park Press. Wayne writes for a national publisher where his words are used by hundreds of charities. He is a frequent speaker, trainer and consultant on fundraising, planned giving and donor relations.
Wayne Olson

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