What Donors Want


Do you know what donors want?

That is a crazy simple question and almost no one asks it.  Seriously, it is ASTONISHING how few nonprofits and fundraisers even think about what donors want.  This is like making an ad for a grocery store that features only the foods the store employees like.  Crazy, right?  But it happens every day.

So the next fundraising letter you want, or the time you talk to a major donor, or the next time you do anything that relates to a donor, here’s what to think about.

A donor wants two things.

  1. They want to make the world a better place according to their values.
  2. They want a problem that they can solve.

Think about it.  Donors give to certain causes (and organizations) because something about the cause or the beneficiaries resonates with them.  They care.  Or to use more fancy language, the change in the world that the organization makes is aligned with the values of the donor.  If a man’s father died of cancer, he’s likely to donate to an organization that is trying to cure cancer.  If a person has a soft spot for animals they are likely to donate to a pet shelter.

What does this mean for you?  It means your values matter.  And it means that if you can talk about your work and values in a way that donors see commonality then you’ll be more attractive to more donors.

The second part is something most organizations get wrong.  Nonprofits tend to think that donors want to fund the work of the nonprofit.  That can be true but most of the time it isn’t.  Most of the times donors want to solve a problem.  They want a hungry person to have a good meal.  They want a sick person to receive the cure.  Solving a problem is great because for the donor it means that they did something concrete.  They saw a situation that was against their values (a person was hungry) and they fixed it (that person now has a hot meal).

The donor solved the problem.  They closed the loop.  Donors LOVE stuff like that.

The more times you can give donors specific problems to solve the more money you’ll raise.


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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