The Donor-Centric Pledge

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 In my fantasy philanthropy world, organizations make commitments to their donors. Organizations guide their work through these commitments.

I like the idea of formalizing these commitments into policies and processes. To me, this intentional act of formalizing includes strategic conversations at various levels within the organization.

For example, if I were trying to formalize the concept of donor-centrism, I would engage all staff in conversations. I would engage the board’s fund development committee in conversation. And, yes, I would engage the full board in a conversation. Maybe it’s a 10–15 minute conversation at a regular board meeting. Maybe it’s a longer conversation at the annual board retreat.

After the conversations, I want some action. That commitment thing.

Back in 2008, my co-author Tom Ahern and I developed a “donor-centric pledge” for our book, Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships.

I use this donor-centric pledge (DCP) to test the donor-centric quotient (DCQ) of my clients. I do the same when presenting all over the world.

I urge you to test your organization’s DCQ with the DCP presented right now in this column. Engage your staff, fund development committee, and board by asking questions about this donor-centric pledge. Consider the following questions:

  • Do you (and all the you’s in the conversation) understand what the statement means? And can you sell the statement to others?
  • How well does your organization perform against the statement/the standard?
  • What do you have to improve?

So, here goes:

The Donor-Centric Pledge

We, [fill in the name of your nonprofit organization here], believe that…

  1. Donors are essential to the success of our mission.
  2. Gifts are not “cash transactions.” Donors are not merely a bunch of interchangeable, easily replaceable credit cards, checkbooks and wallets.
  3. No one “owes” us a gift just because our mission is worthy.
  4. Any person who chooses to become our donor has enormous potential to assist the mission.
  5. Having a program for developing a relationship with that donor is how organizations tap that enormous potential.
  6. We waste that potential when donors are not promptly thanked.
  7. “Lifetime value of a donor” is the best (though often overlooked) way to evaluate “return on investment” in fundraising.
  8. Donors are more important than donations. Those who currently make small gifts are just as interesting to us as those who currently make large gifts.
  9. Acquiring first-time donors is easy, but keeping those donors is hard.
  10. Many first-time gifts are no more than “impulse purchases” or “first dates.”
  11. We’ll have to work harder for the second gift than we did for the first.
  12. A prerequisite for above-average donor retention is a well-planned donor-centric communications program that begins with a welcome.
  13. Donors want to have faith in us, and it’s our fault if they don’t.
  14. Donors want to make a difference in the world—and our mission is one of many means to that end.
  15. Donors are investors. They invest in doing good. They expect their investment to prosper, or they’ll invest somewhere else.
  16. We earn the donor’s trust by reporting on our accomplishments and efficiency.
  17. Individual donors respond to our appeals for personal reasons we can only guess at.
  18. Asking a donor why she or he gave a first gift to us will likely lead to an amazingly revealing conversation.
  19. Fundraising serves the donors’ emotional needs as much as it serves the organization’s financial needs.
  20. We are in the “feel good” business. Donors feel good when they help make the world a better place.
  21. A prime goal of fundraising communications is to satisfy basic human needs, such as the donor’s need to feel important and worthwhile.
  22. The donor’s perspective defines what is a “major gift.” (For example, a repeat donor of $25 annual gifts who suddenly increases her gift ten-fold to $250 is making a major commitment that deserves special acknowledgement.)
  23. Every first gift can open a door to an entirely new world for the donor through participation in our cause.
  • Dana

    Can someone makes this into a poster? I would hang it up all over the office.

  • Jennifer

    What Dana said! This needs to be on my wall.

  • Tony Martignetti

    These are all good for convo, thank you! Maybe something I’d bring to a client fundraisers’ meeting for discussion.

    #22 sticks out for me: I don’t agree that the donor defines a major gift, but I do agree that someone who increases their giving should be specifically thanked for doing so.

    I appreciate your work, thank you.

  • Charles W bishop ll

    Can I accept donations from people prior to establishing my 5031c as long as I inform them of this fact

  • Simona Biancu – ENGAGEDin

    Simone, I completely agree with the comment posted by Dana. Your Donor-Centric pledge should be a manifesto for fundraisers, NGOs, fundraising consultants, boards.
    I’ll share your words on my social profiles and, as Dana said, I’ll hang up a printed version to be shared with the NGOs I’m actually working with.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Hi everyone. Thanks for your wonderful comments and compliments. Sorry I haven’t been checking comments recently – presenting at the Slovak-Czech fundraising conference in Bratislava. Wonderful conference and great hosts. Then on vacation in France.

    So #22, the donor decides a major gift: What is “major” to one donor is different than what is “major” to someone else. Fundraising is a sector that too often looks for money – and big money – rather than focusing on loyalty. Fundraising is a sector that too often priorities big gifts from those big donors – rather than welcoming those who are most loyal. Those who are most loyal are the most likely to give bequests – and bequests are often the biggest gift anyone ever gives – and can be really big (from the money perspective!)

    Of course, the fundraising office may well spend more time with the most loyal as well as those who give large gifts as defined by the development office. But the donor can never feel this personally.

    A poster, eh? Hmmm….. I may suggest that to the co-author, Tom Ahern. He makes weird t-shirts. (See his e-news at So maybe a poster, too.

    Thanks for the idea!

  • Simone Joyaux

    Hey you great commenters: STAY TUNED! I talked to Tom and we are figuring out how to fulfill your desires. More later! Simone

  • Simone Joyaux

    Hi everyone. Check out today’s blog for the “mini-poster” of the Donor Centric Pledge… And some expanded thoughts. And while you’re at today’s Bloomerang blog, make sure you read the others. And check out this donor-centric fundraising database.