Research: Donor Relations

funding donors accountability Donor-Relations
Monday, 29 August, 2005 - 13:39

Thusanang Team, August 2005 One of our team members, Diane Babak offers a light-hearted view of relationship-building within the donor community

Thusanang Team, August 2005

One of our team members, Diane Babak offers a light-hearted view of relationship-building within the donor community

Donors, don't we love them! However, in order to survive, it's important to know how to handle different types of donors. It helps if you take into consideration their individual backgrounds and personality styles. This approach is not new but has recently become more attuned to the world of human psychology and cognitive behaviour. In the consulting world, for example, new recruits are often taught the basic principles of character analysis in order to make sure that they establish strong, supportive relationships with their clients. I would argue that some of these techniques have their uses when working with the donor community. Here are a few tips, based on my own experience, which might help you in that crucial face-to-face encounter that will dictate whether you get to implement your annual plans or shelve them for (yet) another year. Anyway, here goes:

The corporate donor

This type of donor generally likes talk in plain business terms. Please note that “plain” rarely correlates to “simple”. They may try and assume a soft, fluffy exterior, but underneath it all, they're pure bottom line. Try not to come across as a typical hippy, tree-hugger (at least play him at his own game by disguising your natural "humane" tendencies). Its important to realise that the corporate animal is inclined to prefer a limited emotional range and feels safe in the presence of people who create the impression that they are making swift, logical decisions, unhindered by any weakness of sentiment. In these types of fundraising situations, the potential "revenue source" will want to see numbers, not necessarily monetary, but at least a quantifiable indication of the impact of your activities. The use of structures and systems will also appeal to this type, as long as the presentation is neat and concise. More especially, he/ she (though, most usually "he") will want to know what the sponsoring of these activities will mean for the image of his business in the community. If you can pull in a few high-profile social and political champions for your cause, it is likely that your credibility shares will go up by a few notches and enthusiasm for your cause will be dramatically enhanced.

The foreign donor

This type is generally more academic and can be a mite touchy. Be very aware of protocol and forms of address. The foreign donor does not like to be intimidated or bullied by a brash salesman desperate to part him (or her) from their precious cash. Once again, a loose and unstructured approach will not win you a lot of points. You'll score a lot higher in their estimation if you come across as well-informed and rather scholarly, with a deeply held conviction in the work that you're doing. This integrity will be further embellished by a healthy resume loaded with a number of credible projects and activities linked to organisations (and people) that they admire. It is important to bear in mind that these donors often like to believe that they are the only prospect of survival for you. Don't, for any reason, try to play one donor off against the other! It makes them feel rejected and insecure about whether their influence is going to be felt in your endeavours. Make them feel that they are the centre of your universe.

The institutional donor

The institutional donor is either very shy is terribly busy. I say this because his/ her physical presence is rarely felt. Often, you only get to meet this type after you have sent numerous proposals and fundraising submissions. By then, they've already agreed to part with some resources (e.g. cash, skills or property) and are now making a brief world tour to inspect the fruits of their generosity. Institutional donors will want to know, like their foreign cousins, whether you have been spending their money wisely. For this reason, it's a very good idea to make sure that you submit all the necessary reports and M&E indicators timeously and according to their pre-defined schedule. Try to make sure that you appear organised and efficient (even if your last mode of transport has given up the ghost) when they arrive for a visit. It will do you no credit if your working environment is a shambles and it looks as if nothing has happened for the past five months!

The individual donor

This last type of donor generally wants you to let down your guard and show your humane side. They want to know that you love what you are doing and have a sense of dedication beyond the calling of any other mere mortal. Try to make them feel as if they are an essential part of that effort. Often these donors will send resources without making a personal visit. At the very least write or phone them to thank them for their generosity, regardless of how big or small their contribution has been.


As with any situation - it is dangerous to generalise! People behave unpredictably and we often realise the mistakes in our assumptions way before it’s too late to repair the damage. Your interactions with donors will often reflect the chaotic principles that define the human existence. Take my tips with a pinch of salt, but always remember that a little bit of extra effort is likely to produce far greater returns for all involved!

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