Donor-Centricity and Boundaries

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A quick post about donor-centricity…

Based on my understanding of donor-centricity, I believe most of the critiques are targeting what I’d call “donor-centricity taken too far.”

And anything can be taken too far. No technology or tactic has ever been invented that hasn’t been misused or corrupted. But that doesn’t mean the technology or tactic is bad.

What IS Donor-Centricity?

Donor-centricity is a marketing tactic. The principle is borrowed from advertising and is based on the first rule of human persuasion: you must meet someone where they are before you can get them to go anywhere.

This shows up in fundraising writing. A donor-centric e-appeal might start off with, “You know how important it is to have enough nurses during the pandemic.” Where an organization-centric e-appeal might start off with, “Our nursing program produces the most qualified nurses in the tri-state area, and we’ve grown 140% in response to the pandemic.”

Donor-centricity is also an organizational stance, a “leaning in” towards donors and their needs.

This shows up in how an organization spends its time and resources. A donor-centric organization might send a hand-signed thank you note to each new donor within 48 hours of their donation. Whereas another organization might send thank you notes but “batch” sign them at the end of the month when it’s easier for the signer.

Neither is right or wrong. An organization’s level of donor-centricity depends both on how much it adopts the approach and on how many resources are available.

Organizations have adopted donor-centric approaches over time because they tend to result in increased money raised and increased capacity for the organization to achieve its mission.

However, an organization’s “increased capacity” is not more important than the organization’s staff or beneficiaries.


Organizations should have boundaries around their donor-centric approach.

For instance, an organization can practice donor-centricity and absolutely say things like:

Donor, you are not welcome at our events any longer because you make the younger staffers feel uncomfortable.

I’m sorry, Donor, but we can’t accept your donation and its requirements because that would change our mission.

Staff Member, I see that writing the daily Thank You notes is one of the things causing you to burn out. Let’s change that practice because you are more important than a marketing goal.

Donor-centricity should never harm your organization, staff, beneficiaries, or ability to perform your mission.

Knowing what donor-centricity is (a marketing tactic, an approach) and knowing what it isn’t (“the donor is always right”) can lead to an organization having both the fundraising and relational benefits of donor-centricity AND a healthy organizational culture.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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