Donor-Centricity RULES … or does it?

Tom Ahern

July 22, 2020 ~ TODAY I retired the term “donor-centricity” from my pro. vocabulary. SURE: while “donor-centricity” as a FR tactic commonly raises twice as much for the NGO’s mission, it has become a bit of a trigger term, despised by non-fundraisers. Desperately seeking alterna!

> HUGE response (you?)

Patrick Tiernan summed it up nicely: “Perhaps this speaks to the conundrum of many fundraisers and writers: by over/focusing on language we risk neglecting the very experiential and emotional reality for donors.”

Suggested substitute terms included:
  • “I like community-centred & grassroots because it denotes broad, inclusive support. Like the diff between a grassroots political campaign fuelled by individual donors vs. a campaign driven by a constant thirst for big PAC & Major Donor money. Put in the work, build a broad base.” (Denisa Casement) “Donor-centric always meant this. But I see non-Fundraisers misrepresenting something they don’t understand. As long as solid donor love practices are in place – to build a strong community of broad support – the terminology isn’t a make or break issue.”
  • (Dartmouth Vicky) “I agree with you! ‘Solid donor love practices’ I really like that! :)”
  • “Human-centered fundraising?” (Mike Duerksen)
  • “Needs based” (Mark Phillips) “If there is a phrase that sums up a need that we are answering at the moment it is that ‘donors want to be a valued member of valued group’.”
  • “Supporter focused” (Richard Radcliffe)
  • “Audience-centric.” (Vero the persuader)
  • Hitting the nail on the head prize goes to Keith Daly: “For my little bit of money I am able to give, I simply want to feel appreciated and to know that I am making the world a better place for others. To my mind, a nonprofit that does that for those like me who give (whether my time or funds), they are donor centered.”
  • “I agree that ‘Community-Centric’ is a good replacement. I don’t know if we get donors to think enough about these questions or do enough education on complex issues as part of the giving experience.” (Rickesh Lakhani)
  • “I tell my clients: ‘focus on talking TO people. Stop yammering on about yourselves.’ Not a pithy replacement for donorcentric but it makes the point!” (Lori Jacobwith)
  • “It isn’t about the donor driving the nonprofit. But it is about treating donors as sentient beings rather than ATMs. That’s where relationships and heart come in for the work of fundraisers.” (Beth Ann Locke)
  • “It feels like a sentiment or respectful approach has been corrupted or weaponised?” (Stephen George)
  • Nailed it — silver medal: “As I see it, part of the problem w/ the argument against the term ‘donor-centered’ is that it’s about interpretation vs. practice and is true donor centered leaving out the beneficiary?” (T. Clay Buck)
  • Reading my mind prize goes to: “Eliminating jargon from your vocabulary is a good thing! What would happen if you didn’t replace it with another term?” (Andrea Bell)

Gabe Cooper, Responsive Principle 10 [recommended by T. Clay Buck]: Gift Amount Doesn’t Reflect Passion. Your best champions may never give a big gift. Find each donor’s superpower (time, talent, social capital) then give them the opportunity to flourish.

Vu Le, Nonprofit AF, May 22, 2017, 9 Principles of Community-Centric Fundraising: I … want to reiterate how much respect I have for the fundraisers in our field. I’ve said it before that I think you have to be pretty brilliant to be a successful fundraising professional, considering how complex this work is. I also want to reaffirm how much I appreciate donors, and that my critique of donor-centrism in no way precludes respect for donors, just like my critique of inequitable funding practices should not mean a disrespect for foundations or program officers, or my post on how data has been used to perpetuate inequity should not be seen as a dis on evaluators and researchers.

Gabe Cooper, Responsive Principle 9: Donors are people, not ATMs. Responsive Principle 9: Generosity is Not Transactional. Your donors have a deep personal and emotional connection to your cause. Don’t take that responsibility lightly. Your donors are more than just rows in a database.

Vu Le. Principle 1: Fundraising must be grounded in Race, Equity, and Social Justice. The conversations around fundraising must move … toward sometimes uncomfortable discussions regarding race and wealth disparities, etc. Many of us are having these conversations with our boards, colleagues, even volunteers. Donors, however, have mainly been exempt from participating in these crucial conversations, which is a disservice to our donors, and to the sector….

Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children (est. 1919 in England, to feed starving children in post-WW1 Germany and Austria-Hungary); via Gabe Cooper: “We have to devise means of making known the facts in such a way as to touch the imagination of the world. The world is not ungenerous, but unimaginative and very busy.”

Seth Godin: Our target markets are often lazy people in a hurry.


So, what IS “donor-centricity”?

“Donor-centricity” is a borrowed concept.

“Customer-centric” came first. It’s also known as “client-centric” in sales and marketing. Investopedia: “Client-centric has long been a buzzword in service-oriented industries, especially financial services.”

Please note: (1) fundraising is part of “financial services” (especially if you use terms like “investors”); (2) fundraising is “service oriented” (ask any major gifts officer)

To quote from the SuperOffice blog, “A customer-centric way of doing business is a way that provides a positive customer experience before and after the sale in order to drive repeat business, enhance customer loyalty and improve business growth. Companies that put the customer at the heart of their organization are experiencing an increase in customer lifetime value and a reduction in churn. Both Amazon and Zappos are prime examples of brands that are customer-centric and have spent years creating a culture around the customer and their needs.”

Donor-centricity has one goal: to maximize charitable income. It does this by liking – rather than despising, dismissing or ignoring – the donor. Which is the same underhanded, nefarious technique popularized by master manipulators like Dale Carnegie. (Yup: being facetious.)


The FUNDRAISING REALITY all charities FACE: Most people do NOT and will NOT give to you

Here’s an appeal I ran into earlier today, as I was editing this article:

“…we humbly ask you to defend Wikipedia’s independence. 98% of our readers don’t give; they simply look the other way. If you are an exceptional reader who has already donated, we sincerely thank you. If you donate just $2.75, Wikipedia could keep thriving for years. Most people donate because Wikipedia is useful. If Wikipedia has given you $2.75 worth of knowledge this year, take a minute to donate.”

As a matter of fact, I am a long-time monthly donor to Wikipedia, which is a charity.

Or consider this:

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of National Public Radio listeners more or less “love” their NPR. Otherwise they’d tune to some other station for news, bi-partisan expert commentary, fascinating discussions of all sorts of things, tons of music, great game shows, even a chance to blow off steam by phoning in to talk forums.

NOW I want you to GUESS! (Don’t look down yet.)

…in your opinion, what percentage of those SAME NPR listener-lovers CONTRIBUTE each year to the fund drives?

The message is repeated OFTEN (sometimes ad nauseum): “NPR is listener-supported.” So what percentage respond? What’s YOUR honest, best guess? 

Ready to peek?

Somewhere around 5%-7% of NPR listeners give each year to their local station, experts tell me.

Which means the vast majority of NPR listeners DON’T contribute … even though they love the programming.

And that’s fundraising’s CORE problem: apathy, inertia, unwillingness to act at the moment when the ask is made. “Community-centricity” does not address that problem. “Community-centricity” will not cure that problem.

 The REAL world for fundraisers

Donors are special. Why?

Because there aren’t that many of them.

There really aren’t that many people year after year who overcome their couch-potato built-in inertia, to get UP off their wallet … and say YES, OK, I’ll do it.

The “blame the donor” movement is a dead end.

“Donor-centricity” is nothing more than a competent marketer’s way of speaking to a specific target audience. It is not an assault on social justice nor an exclusive term. It for sure doesn’t mean, as careless critics malign: “Donors rule at the expense of ….”

Donors ARE protesters. They want to be in your fight.

Stop hating your supporters.

 Go read more by Tom at
  • Tom Ahern