Your Donors' Wish List

by Larry Johnston

A recent article on BNET ( called “Change everything: Smile & Move,” had a great list of things on “Your Colleagues’ and Customers’ Wish List”:

  • More attentiveness and care
  • More gratitude (less entitlement)
  • More personal connection and authenticity
  • Less complaints and more smiles
  • More positive surprises (less negative ones)
  • More resourcefulness and resilience
  • More commitment to delivering

I really like this list. It packs a lot of punch in just seven succinct bullets. I also like it because it would make a great list for donors to many organizations.

You’ll often hear MJI consultants talk about “the relentless pursuit of donor delight,” and delivering on the above wish list would help lots of organizations in the pursuit of that delight.

If the logic in the list above makes sense to you, let’s get practical. What one step could you take with your donors on each of these bullets? More to the point, if you focused on just one step per month for the next seven months, practically what would that look like?

A popular credit card ad concludes by asking, “What’s in your wallet?” A better question for those of us in development might be, “What’s on your donors’ wish list?”



What's Driving Your Donors?

By Larry Johnston

In seminars I do at conferences, I’ll frequently ask the question, “What is the primary purpose of development?” Answers vary, but they tend to cluster in several areas like raising funds, building relationships, advancing the organization’s mission, and teaching stewardship.

There’s truth in all of these, but I’m doubtful about “teaching” stewardship. That’s a role of some excellent ministries, and certainly the role of churches although most of the latter fail miserably on this front for a host of reasons. If development has a role in stewardship, I think it has to do with providing attractive kingdom investment opportunities and then helping investors to feel, in the immortal words of Mae West, that “Too much of a good thing is marvelous!” That is, when it comes to giving and generosity, moderation is a vastly overrated virtue!

After hearing from the seminar audience, I’ll tell them what the primary purpose of development is from my vantage point: To create and keep the right kinds of donors.

Creating donors entails a host of activities, including branding, marketing and communications. And central in these activities is developing and articulating a distinctive value proposition, something that should be the cornerstone of your organization’s strategy. A value proposition recognizes that increasingly, development departments must be about the business of mutual value creation: proactively creating value for donors and other stakeholders as they go about creating value (gift income, a healthy donor base, visibility, brand equity, etc.) for their organization.

But keeping donors increasingly entails knowing what value is for your donors, and more specifically, what are the key value drivers for your donors. Our research has confirmed that there are a couple dozen drivers of donor satisfaction, engagement, loyalty, and thus donor lifetime value. We know that these drivers vary by organization and that while some of these clearly overlap, each donorbase has a distinctive “personality.” What’s more, our research confirms that key drivers not only vary between organizations, they can vary within organizations by segment. That is, key drivers for major donors can be different than those for medium and “mass” donors.

Now here’s the head-scratcher. It can be forcefully argued that nothing (other than, perhaps, divine favor) is more important to the success of development than consistently delivering on these key drivers, and yet not one in 100 development people can provide empirically based answers to the critical question of what drives their donors’ loyalty.

Abraham Lincoln wisely noted that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend four hours sharpening the ax. For those in development, sharpening the ax includes knowing, not merely guessing, what drives donor loyalty and thus, to a great extent, what drives the success – and even the sustainability -- of their organizations.

Do you know what’s driving your donors?