Yes, it’s all about me, not your organization

I give through organizations to achieve my desires, to fulfill my aspirations. That’s what all donors do. It’s about them, not you.

Forget this at your peril.

Donors of time volunteer their time, serve on your board, whatever—to fulfill their own aspirations, live out their feelings.

Donors of money give money to fulfill their own aspirations, live out their anger, assuage their guilt, create their own salvations. (And that’s what volunteers are doing, too.)

What if you added this kind of information to your donor database for your most loyal donors…for the donors who give the most money?


1. What are Donor A’s aspirations?

  • Ensure a new generation of good citizens who get jobs, vote, and volunteer
  • Give kids meaningful experiences while they’re growing up, preparing them to be “good citizens”
  • Keep kids out of trouble

2. What are Donor A’s feelings? How does the donor display these feelings?

  • Sadness—translates into anger on behalf of kids
  • Guilty, because Donor A has a good job, is a contributing member of the community, had good growing-up years
  • And what else…?

And how about figuring out how Donor A arrived at your organization?

Figure out the donor’s journey before she found your organization. And figure out what kind of people Donor A wants to be with—that social identity thing.

So here I am, Simone, Donor X. This is about my life, not your organization. It always starts with the donor, her life experiences, his feelings, her interests, his disinterests.

But back to me, Simone, Donor X:

  • I’m so angry about injustice that sometimes I think I should turn off all television and radio and read nothing.
  • I’m hugely angry living in this racist, sexist, homophobic, classist world. I feel guilty because I avoid most of those injustices because I’m a white, heterosexual, well-educated, affluent woman. I win because of racism, homophobia, and classism. I lose because I’m female and that’s a disadvantage in every country in the world, in every place in the U.S. But I have more unearned privilege (white, well-educated, affluent, heterosexual) than so many others. So I feel guilty.
  • I believe in speaking out. I feel that silence is consent.
  • I want to be a change agent, a revolutionary.

Which organizations can fulfill my aspirations of a just world…of an end to racism, sexism, homophobia, classism? Which organizations will I join up with and give through, aligning myself with other like-minded individuals? Being part of a team—you and your staff and your board members and your other donors—getting on the playing field and fighting together to make change.

Where do I want to serve on a board? Where will my largest financial contributions pass through to accomplish what I want to accomplish?

Where will I be accepted as an agitator, a loud and passionate voice, a revolutionary?

I’m fighting for what I believe in. I’m not fighting for the biggest community problem. 

Get with it, people! Donors…their emotions…their aspirations…

You’ve learned a bit about Donor A and Donor X.

Now, how about you, personally, as a donor? What are your aspirations? How do you fulfill them with which organizations? Which fight are you joining? Practice on yourself. Tell yourself your own stories. Face your own feelings. Acknowledge your own aspirations.

And, as for your organization…

What do you know about your donors? Donors A through W and Y and Z? Find out. You and your board members can conduct interviews, inviting donors to share their philanthropic stories.

Just imagine the stories. Just imagine the database. Just imagine the implications.

What are your donors’ aspirations?