Rule #1 for Successful Fundraising Campaigns: Put Yourself in the Donor’s Shoes

If you want to run successful fundraising campaigns, you must live (or die) by what I call “Rule #1”: Be donor-centric in everything you do.

In other words, always work to put yourself in the donor’s shoes and make every aspect of your fundraising program work in a way that will connect well with them and produce the best response.


Many other rules for successful fundraising campaigns and strategies are derivatives of this golden rule. It may sound like common sense — and, it is —yet, this golden rule is broken by fundraisers, executive leaders, and board members every day in a variety of ways.

Too often we assume what prospects and donors are thinking and we get it wrong. It is tempting to assume that what impresses us is what compels donors to act and give. Unfortunately, these assumptions can be wrong.

Fundraisers, executives, and board members can fall into the trap of believing that every donor thinks and feels the same as they do. Instead, try implementing processes that enable you to find out — directly from them — how they really think and feel. The most effective fundraisers make the time and effort to find out what their supporters like and don’t like. Most importantly, they find out why their supporters give.


The effort required to find out what donors like and why they give matters as much for those who donate $20 as for those who donate $2 million. From mass appeal communications through to the more sophisticated one-to-one meetings with major donors, the best fundraising practitioners are regularly using good tactics to learn what their donors like and don’t like. This is why good practitioners organise their donors into particular groups according to their interests and preferences (this process is often called segmentation), and then interact with them on this basis to achieve the best results.

There is always going to be a stronger likelihood of a better donor response when fundraising communication is tailored to each donor’s particular interests.


Some organisations run regular donor care surveys to stay in touch with what donors are thinking. Surveys are useful, but they do have limitations; surveys can sometimes be poorly designed and delivered. The best practitioners will run surveys and regularly talk face-to-face with a suitable variety of supporters in order to gain deeper insights.


Lack of donor-centricity and breaking rule #1 is the most frequently repeated mistake in fundraising and, arguably, the largest cause of fundraising failure. I believe it remains the biggest blind spot for fundraisers, executives, and board members in many organisations.

What efforts are you making to find out what your donors care most about? Can you honestly say you know them well and have taken the steps to stand in their shoes and understand why they support your worthy non-profit organisation?