The following blog was originally posted as an article on, which you can read here.

For many organizations, major gifts represent a pretty high proportion of their income. In fact, Canada’s top 25% of all donors give more than 80% of all donations. With statistics like these, it is clear that we, as fundraisers, should be looking after our major donors. But how do we know what our major donors are looking for from us?

Over the years I have met with and interviewed hundreds of major gift donors to organizations, asked for their views on what excites them and what turns them off when it comes to their philanthropy. Here are just a few things that I have learned throughout these interviews about what major donors want from you.


Most organizations do a great job at respecting their donors, but occasionally they get it wrong and a bad experience can taint their willingness to get involved.

So what does it mean to treat a donor with respect? It includes:

• Not viewing them as living, breathing paycheques, but as human beings who desire to see positive change in the world.

• Really listening to them, not only in terms of what their interests are, but also with regard to how they want to be treated. That means if they say they don’t want to receive certain communications, then don’t send them, or alternatively, if they want particularly information about what you do, make sure they get it.

• Spending their money on what you say you will spend it on.

• Reporting back on their contribution. After all, haven’t they earned to right to know what their money is achieving?

• Keep their information confidential, if that’s what they want. Not only is this being respectful, but also ensures that you are acting within the law.

To your donors, your organization is a bridge towards a goal they cannot reach on their own. Therefore, it is imperative that you respect them, be courteous and value them with dignity. As they say, treat others the way you want to be treated.


Typically donors select an organization is because they share a mutual connection and drive to support a specific cause, but if that connection is not nurtured, then their enthusiasm may wain. It is this sense of connection that often keeps them around for the long-term. Without it, there is a far higher chance of your donors being wooed to support another charity that appreciates this special relationship far better.

The strongest fundraising programs are those that really emphasise this connection in every donor communication, from the ask right through to the thank you. By conveying the importance of your shared vision driving everyone towards an end-goal that pleases both sides, and by making it a point to express what kind of difference you’ll make together, your connection with your donor will only get stronger.

Of course, having a connection also means building a connection between the people who benefit from your work and the donor. This can be done by telling strong stories about your impact with beneficiaries that runs through all your communications, but also as much as is possible, giving them the chance to meet beneficiaries directly.

Need help with developing your stewardship strategy? Click here for my FREE stewardship checklist!


Being honest in your dealing with your donors is important in establishing an authentic relationship. Generosity deserves to be rewarded with transparency, and in a time when donor trust is at an all-time low, your donors will appreciate the organization’s truthfulness and honesty in regard to their financial contributions and your intended application of these funds. The fall out, when this doesn’t happen, can be significant.

Recently I was chatting with a major donor to an organization who had given some funding for a very special project that he was very passionate about. After a year with no follow up at all, the donor reached out to find out what had happened with the project. He then discovered that they had decided to spend the money on something else, without telling him. What’s more, it wasn’t even a project that was in alignment with his interests. Needless to say, he was furious and he never funded them again. What’s more, he proceeded to tell his friends all about it, so instead of becoming a donor advocate for the charity, he became a considerable adversary.


When it comes to any charitable giving, the donor responsible is quite literally a hero! Without them, your cause would suffer and next to no progress would be made. Of course, not all donors want to be put on a pedestal (although some do, and you need to be aware of those that do so that you can give them the right recognition), be certain to convey the heroism of your major donors in a manner that respects their generosity and its effect on progress towards your organization’s goals.

Some examples of this include ensuring that donors get the right kind of recognition for their support, but for others, feeling like a hero is knowing that they are having an impact and changing lives. By ensuring that you have the right donor stewardship strategy, you can make sure that all your donors are treated right, and that they can see the results of their “donation superpowers”. Ways to do this can range from specialized videos, newsletters, donor recognition walls on your website, or even an event to which your donors are invited and celebrated.

Of course, the best way to know what your donors want from you is to ask them! How are you building in ways to understand how donors experience their relationship with you? From confidential donor consultations, surveys, and chatting with them regularly at events and in person, you can learn so much about your donors and what motivates them. Then by acting on this learning, you can build strong, mutually beneficial relationships that are sustained for the long term.

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