The bar (as always) was full of people laughing and talking Wednesday night at IFC in Holland.

Across from me sat Francesco Ambrogetti, author of Emotionraising, and the fundraising, marketing and donor love director at UNICEF Italy.

“Asking, thanking and reporting impact to donors… that’s fundraising. That’s retention,” he said. “When we applied donor love principles to our program, we started raising 30% more, year over year.”

I was the least surprised to hear this. With many of the organizations we work with, we see similar growth. They are raising more from amazing donors who are giving more and giving more often. Because of #donorlove.

What is #donorlove?

We explain it with these seven principles that we use to guide us in our work every day:

  1. Your donors are heroes.
  2. You share amazing and inspiring stories of the work that your donors make possible.
  3. You connect to your donors’ values and emotions by sharing your own.
  4. #donorlove is a courtship. A romance. How do you make your donor fall—and stay—in love with you?
  5. You ask for one thing and only one thing.
  6. Who—or what—is the right voice for your story?
  7. You say thanks with passion.

I’ll also add one more from our pal, Damian O’Broin of Ask Direct in Dublin: #donorlove is the thousand small things you must do for your donors every day.

So how do we get inside the hearts and minds of your donors? What can we do to become your donors’ favourite charity?

The good news is that it is deceptively simple. Simple, but not easy.

Just like Frankie said as we sat at the bar at IFC, we must ask (something that most charities seem to do pretty well), we must thank and then we must report back on the amazing work our donors made possible (two things that almost every charity is crap at).

In Canada, you are in competition with about 85,000 other charities—over 1.6 million if you’re in the U.S.

Your beloved donor gets close to 30 to 40 appeals a month—more at this time of year, fewer in the summer.

What can you do to ensure that she looks at yours? How can you make her feel cherished, important and needed? That’s what she wants. She also wants to help you win.


Let’s talk about asking.

Does your offer and ask give me, the donor, an opportunity to swoop in and be a hero? Does it speak to my values as a human and compel me to take immediate action?

From @thewhinydonor on Twitter: “I don’t care if your fiscal ends in June, August or December. There’s no point in sending me an appeal asking me to help you reach your goal by then

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. And definitely don’t tell me you need my donation to balance your budget. I want to help you make the world better. Keeping your accountant happy is your problem.”

The late, great George Smith was telling us 25 years ago, in Asking Properly, that every appeal should be “special.” Which means every appeal and every ask should be about a specific problem that can be solved with your donors’ help.

I know we all want undesignated gifts so our organizations can spend them wherever they’re most needed. But, personally, I’d rather give a friend $100 when they explain they need it to finally get that car they need for their new job, rather than give them $100 for no specific reason, and watch them pocket it, turn and walk away without saying a word. #amiright?


Next, we have thanking.

Tom Ahern says “Your job as a fundraiser is to MAKE ME FEEL GOOD! Wanted! Proud of myself! Surprised!”

It’s easy to do, really—but why do so few organizations take the time to properly thank these amazing people who make their work possible?

Penelope Burk tells us that your donor must get a prompt, unique and sincere thank you. She says they should be given details about the program or project they helped support and a promise to follow up with a meaningful and measurable report on what you’ve done with their gift (and you need to actually do that!).

A simple, handwritten card. A personal call to your donor thanking them, asking why they decided to give, a quick conversation. A photo paper-clipped to the top of their tax receipt. A gratitude report that gushes love and appreciation for the amazing work they helped you make possible. The possibilities are endless.

How are you emotionally and thoughtfully thanking your donors?

Just like in “real” life, it’s relatively simple to show those we care about how important they are. But not easy. No shortcuts are available here. If you thank without meaning it, without real emotion, you might as well not bother at all.


Finally, you must report back to your donor on their impact.

This really is the heart of #donorlove.

Being able to show and share with your donors all of the amazing things they make possible is, regardless of giving level, the key to retention, loyalty and increased giving.

One of the best ways to share impact is with a thoughtful newsletter. Printed. On paper. Not that crap electronic one that marketing wants “blasted” out once a month.

Printed newsletters are the trifecta of great direct response. Because they can ask, thank and report impact, all at the same time. And when you pour #donorlove all over them, your newsletters can easily raise more money than any one-off appeal.

Ask Save the Children USA, who transformed their “ungainly, corporate-centred newsletter” (to quote Tom Ahern) into a six-pager that obeyed the Domain Group’s “Domain Formula” and #donorlove best practices. It went from being a piece that raised $0 to $500,000 gross in one year. That’s not a typo—a half million dollars!

But you can also show impact in so many other ways…

  • An insert in your direct mail piece that talks about how, in the past year, you accomplished a, b, and c because of your donor and how, next year, you will be focusing on d, e, and f—and that you know, with your donors’ amazing support, you will accomplish them.
  • A photograph from the “field,” literally showing kids digging holes for trees or a mom leaving the shelter for good or volunteers laughing as they sort through mountains of food at the food bank.
  • A simple card with a note about the moment a boy’s face lit up when he realized his days of being shuffled from foster home to foster home were over.

Be creative and be thoughtful.

Simple. Not easy.

#donorlove and direct response is an ongoing conversation from one human to another. It’s emotional, it’s messy and it’s real.

Ask with thoughtfulness, thank with emotion and always remind your donor how much you need them and appreciate the amazing worth they make possible.

Do your work with love, my friends.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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John Lepp

John Lepp is a partner at Agents of Good, a collective of passionate and game changing fundraisers who spend most of their day championing your donors and telling great stories.