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What’s Driving Your Donors? By Larry Johnston

 In seminars I do at conferences, I’ll frequently ask, “What is the primary purpose of development?”

Answers vary, but they cluster in several areas, like raising funds, building relationships, advancing the organization’s mission, and teaching stewardship.

There’s truth in all these, but I’m doubtful about “teaching” stewardship. That’s a role of some excellent ministries, and indeed the role of churches, although most of the latter fail miserably on this front for a host of reasons.

If development has a role in stewardship, I think it has to do with providing attractive kingdom investment opportunities and then helping investors to feel, in the immortal words of Mae West, that “Too much of a good thing is marvelous!”  That is, when it comes to giving and generosity, moderation is a vastly overrated virtue!

After hearing from the seminar audience, I’ll tell them what the primary purpose of development is from my vantage point:

To create and keep the right kinds of donors.

Creating donors entails various activities, including branding, marketing, and communications. Central to these activities is developing and articulating a distinctive value proposition, which should be the cornerstone of your organization’s strategy. A value proposition recognizes that, increasingly, development departments must be about the business of mutual value creation: proactively creating value for donors and other stakeholders as they go about creating value (gift income, a healthy donor base, visibility, brand equity, etc.) for their organizations.

But keeping donors increasingly entails knowing what value is for your donors and, more specifically, the critical value drivers for your donors.

Our research has confirmed a couple dozen drivers of donor satisfaction, engagement, loyalty, and, thus, donor lifetime value. We know that these drivers vary by organization and that while some overlap, each donor base has a distinctive “personality.”  Moreover, our research confirms that key drivers vary between organizations and can vary within organizations by donor segment.

Critical drivers for significant donors can differ from those for medium and mass donors giving to the same organization. (Major, medium, and mass donors are typically fairly broad vertical segments of a donor “pyramid” reflecting amounts of financial support.)

Now, here’s the head-scratcher:  It can be forcefully argued that nothing (other than, perhaps, divine favor) is more critical to the success of fundraising than consistently delivering on these key drivers, and yet not one in 100 development departments can provide empirically (i.e., research) based answers to the critical question of what drives their donors’ loyalty.

Abraham Lincoln wisely noted that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend four hours sharpening the ax. For those in development, sharpening the ax includes knowing, not merely guessing, what drives donor loyalty and lifetime value.

The key value drivers for your donors are huge dr, rivers of success, and even the sustainability of your organization.

Do you know what’s driving your donors?


Larry Johnston is the president of McConkey-Johnston International, where he has spent 40 years working with leading Christian organizations,  consulting internationally in fundraising, strategic management, organization development, and leading and managing change.



What is Christian Leadership Alliance?

Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.

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