Not Sure What You Spent Donor Money On? That’s OK!

Cutup bill.png

I was recently helping one of our clients develop a donor communications plan when we came to the common concept of “tell them how you’re using their money.” She was familiar with the idea, and confided that though she understood it in theory, she had no clue how to track how individual gifts were being used, and that in many cases, gifts likely paid for unexciting things like office supplies.

With the exception of those major donors who are funding specific programs or investments, most donors don’t expect you to tell them how their actual donation was spent.

Ultimately what your donors are concerned with is funding the mission, and they want to understand how you’re using their gift to do just that.

I shared with my client four key elements for doing this effectively:

Make it Representative

Unless you’re communicating with a major donor who is funding a specific effort, what you’re aiming for is to share examples of how the donor’s money is being spent.

Share one or two stories of individuals who have benefited from your organization’s services and include a reference to how gifts from donors make the stories possible.

Examples include:

  • If not for gifts like yours, this work wouldn’t be possible.
  • Your gift of $175 helped make this story possible.
  • Thanks to generous donors like you, we are able to continue providing these services.

This is not the type of communication where it’s appropriate to focus on administrative expenses and office supplies.

Make it Believable

It’s important for donors to believe that their gift helped make a significant difference, regardless of their level of giving.

For example, if you’re a lower-tier donor to a local hunger agency and you’ve made a gift of a hundred dollars, you’re more likely to believe that your gift made a difference in the life of someone who was able to feed their family for a week, rather than believe the hundred dollars made a significant impact on a new $700,000 food distribution center.

On the other hand, if you’ve made a significantly larger five- or six-figure gift, it’s much easier to see how your gift helped fund the distribution center.

When donors see that their gift has had a real impact on the outcome of the story, they’re more likely to believe that the organization can’t live without their continued support, and they’ll probably think twice about not continuing to support the organization.

Make it NOT About the Money

Along with other activities that don’t involve an ask, this is an opportunity to connect with your donors and further develop your relationship with them, not hit them up for another gift.

As fundraisers, we’re all familiar with the feedback that we don’t ask often enough. While that may or may not be true in your particular case, this is not the time to include an ask. Just let the donor feel good about what they’ve helped make happen.

Make it Timely

If you haven't communicated with a donor in a long time and it’s time to ask them for money again, you’ve waited too long.

In many cases, you’re better off not asking at all than running the risk of them feeling abused.

To prevent this from happening, create a simple plan for how you will communicate with each donor throughout the year, and be sure to include a few non-ask communications between appeals.


Image Credit: Tax Credits