Responsive fundraisers understand what Elizabeth Dunn outlines in her talk.

How Responsive Fundraisers Serve Donor Happiness and Humanity

Mckenna Bailey

Recently, I stumbled upon Elizabeth Dunn’s Ted Talk Helping Others Makes Us Happier…But It Matters How We Do It and it instantly became a favorite. In 15 minutes, Elizabeth explained the motivation behind every act of generosity and why responsive fundraisers are critical to the future of giving. To hear her talk in its entirety, just click play below.

As Elizabeth proves, to be an effective fundraiser, you can’t simply provide opportunities to give. Rather, you have to create the right opportunities, based on what you know about your donors. You have to be a responsive fundraiser. Here’s why.

1. Generosity Is Innate to All Humans

It’s no secret that fundraisers are struggling to grow their individual donor base and those that they do connect with often won’t give a second time. Against those kinds of odds, it’s easy to understand why many think that generosity is simply declining in people. 

Of course, that isn’t true. As Elizabeth says in her talk, generosity is part of human nature. It’s something that all of us want to participate in, no matter if it happens in big or small ways. Even toddlers exhibit joy when they can give to someone else. But, we only feel the kind of joy that motivates us to give routinely when we feel an authentic connection. In other words, we don’t derive joy from transactional giving. We want something more. 

Responsive nonprofits understand this universal desire innately. They create fundraising campaigns to speak directly to people’s humanity. The connections they make are rooted in authentic connections instead of generic messaging that very few people relate to. Most importantly, responsive nonprofits ensure that this human experience is extended to every donor, not just the ones with the most money. Humanity is universal and the sooner fundraisers understand this, the better results they’ll see from their donor base.

2. Responsive Fundraisers Know Donors Need to Feel Connected to the Cause

When a new donor decides to give to your nonprofit, it’s most likely for reasons independent of your fundraising or marketing campaigns. Most often, a person decides to give because of an event in their life. Maybe they just got a promotion at work and want to show their appreciation to the university where they first found their professional passions. Or maybe disaster struck their community and they want to be helpful as soon as possible. Those are factors and motivations that your organization doesn’t have control over. 

What you do control, however, is the way that new donors connect to your organization and your cause after their first gift. The way you treat donors in the days and weeks immediately following their first gift will make the difference between a happy, engaged donor, and one that abandons your organization for the foreseeable future. 

Responsive nonprofits understand that donors need to be at the center of the entire organization in order to be successful. Donors need to see direct impact and be celebrated for their continued acts of giving — whether that is time, resources, experiences, social shares or money. In order to build a lasting relationship with individual donors, responsive nonprofits make sure to create donor experiences through a variety of channels that reinforce their impact and importance in the cause. Without that constant reminder, donors start to feel neglected and lose the joy essential to giving.

3. Closing the Loop with Donors Drives

One of the strategies Elizabeth highlights in her talk is “specific action”. She mentions that donating $10 to a relief fund doesn’t stir as much joy for donors as donating $10 to buy 10 nets for children in a specific town. This is a tactic that fundraisers often use, but they often don’t understand why it works so well, and more importantly, how to expand that why into other areas of their fundraising.

The reason specificity works so well with donors is because it closes the loop and gives them a clear picture of how they’re helping. For all of us, the joy that comes from giving is a result of knowing that we helped our fellow humans. Without that, giving is no different than paying a bill or running an errand. 

It’s why closing the loop with donors is the central philosophy behind responsive fundraising. The Responsive Framework of Listen, Connect, Suggest is a cycle that repeats indefinitely within your donor relationship. It’s about finding ways to constantly provide new information and remind donors of the people and places they can have a positive impact on. Without responsive fundraising, donors start to feel anonymous to your organization. They wonder whether the people they want to help are even seeing a difference and they start to mistrust your organization. As you know, that will not result in continued giving from most people. 

4. Responsive Fundraisers Create Meaningful Experiences

One of the best parts of Elizabeth’s talk centered around the child’s first bike ride without training wheels. It was a moment that never would have happened without sponsoring the family. But it’s a memory that has brought so much joy to Elizabeth. Not to mention the thousands of people who’ve seen her talk. 

That moment is so touching because it highlights the human connection we all crave. It wasn’t about sending money because it’s Giving Tuesday or because it’s been 6 months since the last time Elizabeth volunteered. That moment was simply two people sharing a fun memory despite language and age barriers. Of course, the nonprofit that provided the opportunity to Elizabeth is a key part of the story. But, it isn’t the central part. 

Responsive nonprofits do their best to build connections with donors based on unique experiences and authentic interactions. They know that in order to succeed in their fundraising goals, they have to give donors a reason to keep engaging. That means personalized opportunities that speak directly to each person’s motivations, values, commitment level and abilities. Remember, there is no one way to build a relationship. Every person is different. If you want your nonprofit to inspire recurring gifts from people, you must focus on their individual needs. Find a way to create experiences based on those needs. The result is happy donors willing to do whatever they can to make you successful.

5. Giving Is Better Together

The last idea that Elizabeth points out that responsive fundraisers use regularly is the idea that giving is better together. She talked about the impact of creating a small community to sponsor the refugee family. She remembers how the community element added a deeper meaning to the experiences they were able to have. Elizabeth reinforces the idea that giving is largely motivated by our shared humanity. Most importantly, she proves what we all know to be true: everything is better when we can do it together. 

Responsive fundraisers take this idea and use it to create connections with donors that have nothing to do with their organization. For example, responsive fundraisers may use location data to connect donors in the same area. They may encourage them to create task forces or other host events. They will use behavioral data to segment their donors into groups that are all motivated by the same thing so that their experiences are customized and relevant. Or, they might leverage their various social channels to highlight the different community members committed to helping the cause.

No matter what tactics they use, the strategy is still the same for responsive fundraisers. They want to highlight the community around and the humanity within each donor. The hope is in order to tie them more closely to the cause. The strategy works not only because it allows for more efficiency, but also because it serves donors needs.

Learn More about Donor Experiences with Our eBook

If you want to learn more about how to create the kind of personalized experiences needed to bring joy to your donors and inspire generosity, download The Donor Journey Explained ebook. It takes you through the entire donor journey and teaches you how to segment your donors in a meaningful way. Plus, learn how to create engagement campaigns that drive generosity and foster loyalty. Get The Donor Journey Explained for free right now.