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Your Donors Aren’t Giving to You, They’re Investing in You


By Sara Abernethy

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At Classy, we are constantly talking about the ways in which the landscape of philanthropy is changing; it’s the exact reason why we built our fundraising platform in the first place.

One of the largest challenges nonprofits face today is transferring sustainable streams of revenue from an aging, more traditional (albeit, lovely!) donor base to the next generation. Now, the term “next generation” can mean different things to different people, but one thing remains constant: modern donors look a bit different today from how they did 25 years ago.

Today’s donor wants to be involved beyond making a financial gift within his means. Phrases like “he wants to make an impact” or “she wants to affect change in a real, tangible way” have been thrown about for the past few years, but in order to truly understand and allow them to influence our engagement strategy we first need to change the way we view our donors.

Modern donors are not simply making a gift to your mission. They are consciously choosing to part with their own funds because you have touched something inside them. Consider modern donors as investing in the solution to the problem your nonprofit has identified, and they plan to make an impact through your programs. In many ways this is a product of today’s technological advancements.

Amy Webb, digital trend analyst and founder of Future Today Institute, says that this is a product of today’s technological advancements:

“It’s just semantics: donation vs. investment. But I think to a millennial, who’s grown up in a very different world, one that’s more participatory because of the digital tools that we have, to them they want to feel like they’re making an investment. Not just that they’re investing their capital, but they’re investing emotionally.”

Let’s start thinking of modern donors as investors, as opposed to a group of individuals simply making a charitable gift because you’ve made them feel sorry enough about the issue at stake (cue the Sarah MacLaughlan sobfest “In The Arms Of the Angel”). When you invest in something, you are trading a financial contribution toward someone or something that will ultimately pay off in the future—whether that’s in actual dollars or some other form. In the social sector, the “payoff” is typically more qualitative.

Think about this as being proactive instead of reactive. Modern donors, as investors, are proactively taking a stand toward making change, as opposed to reacting out of pity. Additionally, if you treat your donors as investors in your cause and provide them with actionable results driven by their support, your donors will be far more likely to be involved with you for the long haul, as opposed to ending at a one time gift.

And with annual donor retention rates barely reaching 50 percent year over year, that’s something worth considering.


This is a guest post by Sara Abernethy, a sales team lead at Classy.org. She helps nonprofits crush their online fundraising goals so they can get back to business solving the world’s biggest problems.

The Know Your Donors Field Guide

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