The question to ask a first-time donor: why?

Building lasting relationships with donors through shared purpose


Many arts organisations are getting first-time donors now (for example from people who had booked for events that had to be canceled due to the virus and are not asking for their money back). With donations and philanthropy needed more than ever in the arts, how can we develop these relationships to last? 

In a highly relevant podcast with CI-to-Eye, American consultant on philanthropy James Langley emphasises the importance to understand and listen to these new donors and to carefully consider how to build a longterm relationship with them.

“The first time someone gives a gift to any organisation, the most astute thing you can do is ask that donor, ‘why?’”

James Langley

Understanding the donor’s motivation allows to discover where there is a shared purpose that can be the basis for building a longterm relationship. 
Langley emphasises the importance of human-to-human connection, generated through human stories and real conversations, to build an authentic relationship that can last.

Image by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

He sees small organisations at an advantage here and has observed that as organisations are getting bigger, they tend to move away from human connections – a trend that is counterproductive when at the same time authenticity is of increasing concern for new generations of arts attenders and donors. 

In the Covid-19 crisis we have all deleted emails from organisations we happened to interact with a long time ago and have no relationship with, or desperate messages that dramatise the situation of the organisation while ignoring what the recipients might be in a tough situation themselves. Langley calls this focus on the organisation’s needs and desperation “pleading fundraising”.

What is the alternative? He suggests “pastoral fundraising” as a more effective and authentic approach. An approach that focuses on advancing the purpose or cause and is hopeful, not desperate or demanding. It includes being open to collaborating with anyone who is also serving that cause rather than being fearful of competition.

This leads to his final piece of advice for the current time: Get back to the cause/purpose and strip away institution. I think that’s not only good advice for fundraising but for any audience development or, generally for many of the decisions we are faced with in challenging times.

There are more insights in the full podcast, which you can listen to through this link