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 Barden

Pamela brings nearly 30 years nonprofit experience to the Lighthouse Counsel team. As president of PJ Barden Inc., she counsels nonprofits in the United States and internationally, helping them develop their fundraising strategies and writing copy to achieve their goals. She also teaches fundraising courses in the Master’s of Public Administration program at the University of La Verne and the Fundraising Certification Program at UCLA Extension. Pamela is a former vice president at Russ Reid. Prior to that, she led the fundraising programs for nonprofit organizations such as World Relief and the International Federation of Christians and Jews, getting hands-on experience in everything from direct mail to DRTV, and major gift solicitation to event management. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and graduate of Wheaton College and Dominican University, and she recently received her doctorate in business administration from California Southern University. Pamela is a native Chicagoan who, along with her husband, lives in Southern California where snow is a destination, not a regular traffic nightmare. They hike the mountains with their dog, stroll along the ocean and have season passes to Disneyland. But she still misses Chicago pizza.