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Change your Perspective: Look in from the Outside

Change your Perspective: Look in from the Outside

June 23, 2020
Pamela Barden

Ah, the perfect world: a world where we have plenty of money to do research and make decisions based on well-documented findings that provide a deep level of confidence in decision making. Sadly, most of us don’t live in the perfect world. In our world, we may only have money for the very basics — and donor research hardly fits into that category. Happily, there are ways to get a better understanding of who your donors are that won’t stretch your budget any further than it’s stretched right now.

Step Outside Yourself 

Stop looking in the mirror. There is a good chance that your typical donor does not look, think or act like you, especially if you are younger than 50 years old. The majority of donors skew older because when you’re younger, you are worrying about college loans, buying houses, putting braces on kids and starting college funds and 401(k)s. During that phase of life, making significant gifts to charity are often postponed. Once you accomplish all those things and more, it’s easier to find disposable income that you can use any way you wish — and often, at least some goes to charity. Even if you are older, the mirror is still not an accurate reflection of your donors because you have an insider view of your cause. Remember, other donors are looking from the outside in. 

Start Reading

What are your donors writing to you in letters and emails? Yes, some of them are angry rants and some are pure fluff, but if you make it a habit to read a random selection of written comments regularly, you can glean ideas that help you get a picture of a portion of your audience. What are they praising? What makes them cry? What makes them feel proud? Those are the things you want to do more of.

Stop Catering to Insiders
In addition to not looking like you, your typical donor probably doesn’t look much like your leadership team or board members, either. Your donors quite often don’t know what the acronyms mean or where a region you work in is located (if you aren’t local). Aim for accurate word choices that a donor understands and can visualize in his or her head.

Start Talking
Answer calls from donors when you can. Call a few every week just to thank them for their donation and ask them what they love about your organization. Average donors can give you a window into the larger pool of donors who faithfully give. What do they enjoy reading about? What project especially speaks to them? What would they like to know more about? What makes them proud to be your donor?

No single donor represents the entirety of your donor file, but bit by bit you will come to see what makes your donors special, and how you can help them fall in love again and again with your cause.


Pamela Barden

Pamela has amassed more than 40 years of non-profit experience. As president of PJ Barden Inc., she counsels non-profits, helping them develop their fundraising strategies and writing copy to achieve their goals. She previously taught fundraising courses in the Master of Public Administration program at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California, and the Fundraising Certification Program at UCLA Extension. Pamela is a former vice president at Russ Reid. Before that, she led fundraising efforts for non-profit organizations such as World Relief and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, getting hands-on experience in everything from direct mail to DRTV, from major gift solicitation to event management. Pamela is the recipient of a Silver ECHO Award from the Direct Marketing Association, winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and a Distinguished Instruction’s Award from UCLA Extension. She is also the coauthor of “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management” (John Wiley & Sons), and author or hundreds of articles for fundraising publications. A Certified Fund Raising Executive, Pamela is a graduate of Wheaton College (B.A), Dominican University (M.B.A.), and California Southern University (Doctorate in Business Administration). Her hobbies include travel, hiking and reading. The most-frequently heard quote by and from Pamela is what she has told clients and students alike for many years because, as a fundraiser, she knows it’s true: "I am not the target audience.”