Interview on Donor-Centric Fundraising

Third Sector New England podcasts are designed to provide non-profit executives, managers and staff with practical “how to” strategies to help their organization and community thrive.

Podcasts to Build Nonprofit Capacity

Third Sector New England podcasts are designed to provide non-profit executives, managers and staff with practical “how to” strategies to help their organization and community thrive.

Following is the transcript of Part 1 of the highly-anticipated fall 2007 interview with fundraiser extraordinaire Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE, Joyaux Associates, by media-maker David Tames.

David Tames: What are the basic components of a vigorous non-profit fund-raising program? For example, annual fund-raising campaigns and things like that.

Simone Joyaux: You know David, it’s really interesting that you ask the question that way with your “for example and annual fundraising campaign,” etc. I would have asked it that way years ago, but I wouldn’t now.

So, for example, when you say, What are the basic components of a vigorous fund-raising program? For example, annual fund…, I would say the answers are a:

  • Really good case for support

  • Donor-centered approach, which I know we’re going to talk about

  • Very strong relationship-building program

  • Understanding that everything else in the organization affects fundraising

So if you’re not a top-quality, well-organized, systems-thinking-based organization, your fundraising isn’t going to be so good. And notice, I have not yet mentioned an annual fund-raising campaign or anything else. So, that’s my answer.

David: Okay, so you mentioned donor-centric fundraising. What is that?

Simone: Donor-centric fundraising is both old news and new news, first. It’s the thing everyone is kind of talking about, and has been for the past 5 years. The sad reality is that we shouldn’t have been talking about it for just the past 5 years. It’s forever. We always should have been donor-centric and donor-centered.

It’s a fundamental concept. And it’s an attitude, first. It’s personality, and by that I mean everybody in the organization feels in their hearts, in their souls, and in their minds that donors are critical, donors of time or money. That without those donors of time, as in volunteers, and those donors of money, we the organization cannot do what we do. We exist, we do our good work, based on these caring donors. That’s an attitude.

You can feel it. You can see it when you walk into an institution. It’s the way they treat all their clients, all their donors, all their volunteers. They’re welcoming. They greet you. They’re customer-service oriented. That’s the sort of personality, instead of thinking that donors are the means to an end.

David: I'm wondering could you give us an example of how being donor-centric can change the way a nonprofit develops its fund-raising strategies and activities?

Simone: I was making a presentation a few months ago, and we were talking all about being donor-centered and building relationships. One of the board members, in the audience, said, “Well, for heaven's sake! This is just an enormous amount of work, and once we’ve got these donors, we’ve got them. I just don’t see why we have to nurture relationships.”

Well, when I think about how we nurture relationships, that is key to being donor-centric. So that, for example, would be a bad example. That’s not being donor-centered. That’s thinking, I've got your money. I don't need to worry about how I'm spending it. I don't need to worry about telling you regularly how special you are and thanking you, regardless of how much you gave.

So, when you’re truly donor-centered you realize that they want to know the results of their gift. You understand that you have to do regular communications with them. We talk about newsletters. I notice organizations that can only get out 2 newsletters a year. That’s not enough to keep someone in love with you. So, there’s the regularity of the communication and responding the questions they’re interested. For example, they want to know, How did my gift make a difference?

There’s something as simple as the headline in a newsletter or in a brochure. And the headline instead of saying, We, the Audubon Society of Texas Did ..., the headline leads with Because of Your Gift, the Audubon ... Accomplished ...”

David: So what you’re suggesting is that we tie the donor relationship in with specific outcomes.

Simone: It’s the donor’s gift that produced the results that matter. Without the donor’s gift … this is not about us the organization, it’s about the donor. That’s what it means to be donor-centered, donor-centric. So it’s something as basic as you use the word you all the time.

David: Right.

Simone: It’s the headlines in your newsletter. It’s the way you send solicitation letters where we say, Thank you for your gift. Your gift made the difference. Because of your support one more bird was saved. Without your support those other two birds will become extinct.

Donor-centered is about writing what [your supporters] are interested in. It’s about hosting cultivation gatherings that they think would be fun, as opposed to what you think would be fun, as a development officer.

David: Well, that sounds like a really compelling approach. Can you give us an example of the difference one of your non-profit clients saw in its fundraising bottom line after moving from the traditional fund-raising approach to the donor-centric approach that you advocate?

Simone: Yes, and I’m going to play with you again David. You say your “fundraising bottom line.” Let me ask you a question back, first. What do you mean by fundraising bottom line?

David: Well, I would think that the fundraising bottom line is raising more money.

Simone: And that, David, is one of the biggest problems that our profession faces. The fundraising bottom line is much more than money. First, and foremost, the fundraising bottom line is retaining donors, loyal donors. "So maybe I didn’t give you as big a gift this year because my life changed. But, by golly, I’ve been giving for 25 years and I’m going to give for 25 more."

David: So this is about building relationships, rather than fundraising?

Simone: Good fundraising is about building relationships. Meaningful fund-development programs are not first and foremost about money. They are about:

  • Acquiring and retaining donors
  • Engaging those donors increasingly, and more. So, they may ultimately give the ultimate gift, which is a bequest in their will.
  • Loyalty - and loyalty only happens when you are centered on the other, when you understand their interests.
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