Are you frustrated right now? Maybe you’re writing your annual report or appeal letter, but you’re stuck. Or maybe you’re wondering how to connect with a donor and you just can’t seem to get through to them?

What could we do to connect better with our donors? How can we help donors feel more connected with us? How do we help them see we don’t just see them as a dollar sign, but someone who is truly a partner in our missions?

If you’ve ever struggled to connect with a donor who might look very different than you, or have way fewer economic struggles than you do, this can help.

How do you build a relationship with a donor? You have to move beyond cliches.  Here are some ideas from the 7 Layers of Intimacy book by Matthew Kelly.


1. Simple Cliches.

How was your day? Fine. How’s the nonprofit work going? Good. We do these all day long with people in the grocery store, or a person we might casually chat with on the street. It’s appropriate for that interaction. But let’s say you want to go chat with a donor at a fundraising event. You want to move beyond cliches. But how?


2. Facts.

How is the nonprofit work going? Well, we helped 1,000 people last year escape poverty. Or, we agitated for legislative change.

This is where most annual reports STOP. There’s no emotion, there’s no shared values, just simply, HEY, we need money… so… we did this thing… so…. give!

It’s so.. DRY! It’s so impersonal! ARGH! Don’t do this nonprofit friends! It’s… just not compelling. Numbers are not compelling.


3. Opinions.

Opinions change all the time and your nonprofit doesn’t have to share your donor’s opinions. But opinions lead to values, which do change. Here’s where you can start to go deeper with your donors.

What are our values? Our shared values that we are working towards, together? Maybe it’s to help all children graduate from high school. Maybe it’s getting musical education for everyone.

How do we work together? You give time, or money, and we provide the work that you want to see in the world.

Remember, a virtue is a value in action. You can help your donor feel virtuous by giving to you. This is a good place to start a more productive conversation with a donor.

At a fundraising event (or in a letter), you can start out by saying, HERE’S what we believe.

We believe that every woman should live a life free of domestic violence. And your donor can say YES, I believe that too. That’s why I’m here.


4. Hopes and Dreams.

This is where your annual report or appeal letter can help people envision that bright future.

What are your dreams for your nonprofit? What are your hopes? Perhaps your donor shares those hopes and dreams. What if you want to live in a world where no one has to go hungry? Or a world where poor people are no longer given life sentences for minor offenses? Paint a picture of a world where this is what happens.

This is why donors and volunteer give to you, because they want to see that future become reality.

Some appeal letters are structured this way: here’s what we believe, unfortunately, here’s what’s happening now, but here’s the future we want to build together. Can you give?


5. Feelings.

NOW we’re getting into the juicy stuff! Are you ready? DO YOU DARE to share your real feelings with your donor? Some of the best appeal letters share real feelings with the donor. This exposes your vulnerability to the donor, and it makes them pay attention. You’re not just asking for money or updating them on a program. You’re truly trying to connect on a heart level.

You could start your letter from the director in your annual report, or your appeal letter with, “I’m worried.” Or “I’m scared.” Or “This is the hardest letter I have ever had to write, in the last 10 years as your executive director.”


6. Faults, Fears and Failures. 

This is the most challenging thing. COULD YOU GET THE COURAGE to share your failures with your donor? And your fears? Even your faults? If you do, I promise you, incredible things will happen.

You can write, “Should we give up?” as Indra Sinha did, in the 1990s, with press ads for Amnesty International. Then he went on to tell the story of someone they helped escape imprisonment from a dictator, becoming a dictator himself. It seemed hopeless. And they asked the donor, OK, this is bad. So, should we give up?

The result? They raised over 500% of their goal.

Here are more examples of sharing your failures

This is where I see nonprofit being the most resistant, because it’s scary to say “We messed up” or “This sad thing happened, we didn’t get the grant.” But we MUST say this if we want our donors to trust us. It’s SO important. Otherwise how are they going to know that you need help?


7. Legitimate Needs.

What’s our number one goal, that we’re working on together? And how does this need serve that goal?

A legitimate need is “I need to be giving to a nonprofit that is taking a stand on this issue and helping X number of people each year.”

But also, this is when you can truly say we have the same goals, we both are playing for the same team, and we want to help the world together.

Whether you’re writing a letter, an annual report, or in conversation with a donor, this is where you can get to the core of why they give, who they are, and who your nonprofit is.

This is just an idea for 7 layers of getting close to a donor-with conversation or written communications. You don’t have to go through each layer in order. You can go straight into opinions, for example, move into fears, and then to hopes.

What do you think of these ideas of ways to go deeper with your donors?

Do you have any suggestions?

Want more tips on how to write an appeal letter or an annual report?

I’ve got TONS of them! Check out the links above.