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Joanne Oppelt

About Joanne

Fundraising Success: Validate Your Donors and Funders (Part 5)

This is Part 5 of my six-part weekly series on achieving fundraising success for your nonprofit agency. In this fifth installment, we discuss why it's important to validate your donors and funders.

In a Nutshell

This is Part 5 of a six-part weekly series on achieving fundraising success for your nonprofit agency, contributed to the CharityChannel professional community by Joanne Oppelt. Joanne is the author of several popular books on the subject, published by CharityChannel Press. Please scroll down to see Joanne's bio to learn more about her books.

Why You Should Validate Your Donors and Funders

I believe that the basic human need that all individuals have in relationships is the need to be acknowledged and validated. As human beings, we want to know that our existence counts, that we are important to somebody. We want to others to recognize and validate our needs and dreams. We want to know that our contribution means something.

If you know what motivates your donors to take action, and give them opportunities to fulfill those motivations, you will be a successful fundraiser. Fundraising is not about meeting your organizational needs. Meeting organizational needs is a by-product of a successful fundraising partnership. A successful fundraising partnership meets the needs of your donors first.


Individuals are one of the most significant customer bases a nonprofit has. More than 80 percent of all charitable giving is through individuals. It is also individuals who are the volunteer force of a nonprofit. Individuals are extremely important to cultivate. But many of us forget to meet the basic needs of our donors. Donors want to be acknowledged and validated and we don’t do that very well.

To increase the number of individuals in your donor and volunteer bases, you will need to tap into their motivations, values, and interests. They will be buying a number of products from you. They might solely be interested in making a difference in the world. They might want to belong to a social group. They might want prestige in the community. They might want to improve a job skill. They might want to rub shoulders with your partners. There are many reasons why people choose to associate themselves with your cause. Your job is to find out what they’re interested in “buying” and then provide it to them.

How well do you know your donors’ needs and values? Do you listen more than you talk? Do you start the process with them or you? When you do talk, do you talk more about mission or money? What do you promise donors? Do you follow up on your promises?

Putting Donors’ Needs First Is Hard, Disciplined Work

Putting donors’ needs first is hard, disciplined work. It means building relationships, which takes time. It means communicating to them in terms that they find compelling, not you. It means sharpening your listening skills and listening first. It means reading between the lines to their underlying values and concerns. It means accepting them for who they are. It means being true to your word and following up with donors. It means having a vision for the long term rather than settling for short term results. It means being invested not in a process, which is easier to manage, but in people with all their glorious strengths and weaknesses and unpredictability. It is hard work to be donor-centric.


You need to appeal to meeting the donor’s needs, as opposed to your own. Donors ultimately give to be a contributing part of something bigger than themselves. So, in your appeals, let them know just how big a part of something they are. For example, ask them to join the hundreds of donors who want to cure cancer. Or let them know they will become part of a special group of people who provide housing for the homeless in their community. Show them how they are a part of the bigger picture.

You also need to acknowledge your donors by thanking them. Do you send a thank you note to each and every donor? How long does it take you to get that thank you out? Do you thank a donor in more than once in more than one way?

Not only do you need to thank donors for their contributions, you need to validate them. You need to let donors know that their contributions make a difference and that their interactions with you are valuable to you. Are your thank you’s genuine or pro forma? Do your communications emphasize the money transactions or is the focus on the relationship that donors are part of? Do you talk about meeting organizational needs or do you talk about fulfilling mission? Do you keep your donors informed of your progress in meeting mission again and again? Do you let them see what an important part of the greater whole they are? That their contribution, whatever it is, is crucial to mission success?

Just like a financial firm tells its investors how their investments are doing, tell your funding partners how their investments are doing. Study after study has shown that people want to know how their gifts were used. They want to be part of your organization’s success. Tell them how they were.


Keep the focus on the result the donor makes happen as opposed to your organization making happen. Give donors credit for the outcomes they make happen. Let donors feel the satisfaction of helping another human being and making the world a better place. Let them feel they are a contributing part of something greater than themselves.

If You Want to Attract Donors, Meet Their Needs First

If you want to attract donors, meet their needs first. Make sure that what you’re asking them for does not take away from them being able to meet whatever needs they have. Get to know your donors and what’s important to them. Understand their values. Listen to them and what their dreams are. Put them first, not your organization. Build a relationship that starts with them and what they want out life, rather than your need to raise money.

Remember to continually acknowledge your donors and validate their contributions. Let them know how valuable they are to your mission. Constantly communicate to them how important they are to you. Make it so that you are keeping more donors than you are losing. Build those relationships. And you will be successful beyond your wildest dreams.


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