10 Things to Remember About Donors

Alta Alonzi About Alta Alonzi

Alta Alonzi is a prospect researcher of international donors. She works with the fundraising consulting company Philantropia, conducting research for clients ranging from small NGOs to UN organizations. She also works closely with FundsforNGOs running training webinars and updating the Premium donor database.


Asking a donor for funding can be both difficult and stressful. Merely getting a response from donors can be difficult and it is easy to get discouraged. Approaching a new donor can feel very impersonal; it is hard to picture the person on the other end who will receive your message. Even after you make a contact, maintaining that contact takes a lot of work. To successfully build and maintain relationships with donors, it is very important to get into their shoes and understand their perspective. Here is our list of top ideas to remind yourself each time you approach a donor.

1. Donors are human. Donors just like you and me, have their own ideas, their own lives as well as their own likes and dislikes. Do not think of networking as trying to manipulate some exotic species, but instead as having a good conversation with another person about important work. Donors typically respond best to people who share their interest in changing the world rather than people who clearly have their own agenda.

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2. Donors give money for a reason. Donors are not required to give, but do so of their own volition. Donors want to accomplish something with their funding. Often it is personal experience, passion for a certain cause or a moral obligation that inspire donors to be donors. Understanding what motivates each donor and what they want to accomplish is key in structuring your approach. Donors often have their own goals and you need to make sure your goals and the goals of the donor align.

3. Donors are busy. Donors sometimes have hundreds or even thousands of people asking for support, and as such they cannot give their full attention to all of them. Thus make it easy for donors to work with you! Be patient, do not waste their time, keep emails concise, let conversations be to the point, have all necessary information ready and easily accessible by the donor. Do not ask donors basic or vague questions that you could easily find answers to in a quick online search. Building rapport is really great, but first feel out if the other party has the time and is interested.

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4. Donors have their own way of doing things. Donors typically manage multiple grants at once and so like to have some consistency in the way applications are submitted, how accounts are kept, how monitoring and evaluation is run etc. While a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for all projects, try to work within the donor’s parameters as much as possible. Research the donor beforehand so you know what to expect from them. If some of their requirements do not suit your project, explain to them the difficulties and try to reach a solution.

5. Donors have worries of their own. Donors may have to make reports to their government, tax authority, accountants, board members, the public etc. Donors are often expected to be transparent, show improvement and maintain a good public image. Because of this, many donors are very risk-adverse, maintain high due diligence requirements and set high reporting standards. While this can make donors very bureaucratic, slow and at times difficult to work with, it is important to understand why these steps are in place and try to be as honest and helpful as possible. Donors will appreciate it.

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6. Donors are not ATMs. Do not approach donors only when you need money. Long-term relationships are not built by only receiving checks. Keep donors updated with the work you are doing- both success and set-backs. Donors have a lot of experience in seeing projects to completion, so they may have some suggestions for you. Additionally, you may have valuable local information donors are interested in knowing. Donors often keep track of macro trends, but they may be lacking in the local knowledge or know-how that you are privy to. Relationships should be mutually beneficial, so think of ways you can provide information or support back to donors.

7. Donors can give more than just money. Funding is only a part of what good donors can offer you. Many donors are field experts and can advise you on current trends as well as on the technical aspects of running a project. Donors are often well-connected and may be able to recommend other potential partner NGOs, consultants, and sometimes even other donors. Donors may also be willing to lend their credibility to you. They may be willing to let you use their name, write a recommendation, advertise for you or even sometimes fundraise on your behalf. Always ask first before assuming what a donor can or cannot do.

8. Donors care about the results. This can be hard to swallow, but new donors tend to care little about your NGO; they care about making a change or improving the lives of the beneficiaries, and your NGO is just the vehicle for these results. Still, once a donor agrees to fund you, they are now interested in your success. Use this chance to prove to the donor that it was their support and your team that was able to bring about the desired results. Once donors see your effectiveness firsthand, they will start to care more about your NGO. This can result in more willingness to give followup grants, core support, and sometimes even fund capital investments.

9. Donors cannot read your mind. While many donors are field experts, you should never assume all donors understand the exact context your NGO is operating in. For applications, it always helps to give some relevant background information. Do not just explain the project, but why the project is important. Try to avoid using acronyms or jargon unless you know for a fact who your readers are and what their experience level in your field is. Even for experts, writing that in simple form and to the point is often appreciated.

10. Donors like to have fun too. Like most people, donors enjoy the feeling of doing good. Make sure they feel good about funding your NGO; write thank-you letters send them updates, and maybe even invite them to the field. When writing applications, make sure the content is engaging. Your project is important and exciting, however project applications often read as dry and dull. You can easily fix this by adding pictures, making the formatting more inviting, including stories or interesting facts, changing the tone of the application to a less rigid and more engaging one. However, exercise caution when trying to be funny – humor often does not translate well.

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