Is a donor ever just a donor? Of course not. Your constituents are complex and multifaceted. In fact, they might cycle through various stages during their relationship with your organization, from donor to advocate to recipient of your services. As such, your brand should consistently reflect this complex relationship across all channels.

We sat down with Angel Aloma, former executive director of Food for the Poor (FFTP), to learn his philosophy on what donor-centric fundraising looks like. You’ll learn how to apply these principles to make your constituents feel like they are a cherished and essential part of your organization. 

How Food for the Poor Became Donor-Focused

Before joining Food for the Poor, Aloma worked as a teacher for 28 years. He had recently retired when FFTP invited him to join its team as executive vice president and succeed its founder, who had just resigned. Aloma is the first to say he knew nothing about fundraising, but he did know how to build relationships. He jumped in, started researching and learning as much as he could about his new role, and became an industry expert and leader. He was with FFTP for 21 years.  

Aloma looked at other nonprofits and the private sector to see what tactics he could steal. As a result, their copy shifted from founder-centered to organization-centered with the mission out front. However, after attending the International Fundraising Conference (IFC) in Holland and hearing famed nonprofit copywriter Tom Ahern speak about weaving donor-centricity into copy, Aloma realized he needed to make additional changes.

All marketing collateral that didn’t credit the donor was sent back to the creative department. The newsletter, which historically listed what FFTP had accomplished for the year, was reimagined to instead show what donors had achieved. Donations soared: whereas the previous newsletter netted $300,000 to $500,000, the new version netted $1.3 million.

Pursuant’s Matthew Mielcarek spoke with Aloma about the shift to donor-centricity and how organizations big and small can get started. 

Why Is it Important to Understand Passion?

Three important questions:
Why is passion necessary?
What is the Unique Selling Point (USP) that we all have in common?
What is the connection between these two?
Telling Stories

We often talk about how essential it is to tap into our donors’ passion when appealing for their support. But it’s equally important for fundraisers to bring their own passion for their work, mission, and constituents into the conversation. 

Fundraisers and marketers can infuse passion into their appeals through storytelling. Aloma, a renowned expert in this tactic, reminds us that storytelling is part of our DNA. And the best storytellers use passion to bring their stories to life. 

How Does That Passion Connect to Driving Engagement?

At FFTP, Aloma consulted with a group to conduct an emotional inquiry study (EIS) that asked donors why they gave to the organization. It’s essential to ask questions that elicit storytelling rather than short answers, and it’s amazing what donors will reveal, he said. For example, Aloma had always heard donors say they give because they like to help the poor. But by digging deeper, the study found the main reason donors give is this: to feel good about themselves.

This revelation shaped all of FFTP’s communications. For instance, they eliminated the word “help” from their copy:

  • Old: Thank you for helping FFTP do this or that.
  • New: Thank you for building homes. Thank you for giving these children an education.

Communications became focused on making the donor feel good. They also created the “Giving Hierarchy of Good” and then focused on moving donors up the pyramid.


In Terms of Understanding Motivation, How Do You Capture and Operationalize Donor Interests?

You must have programs that appeal to all your different segments. For instance, you can’t wait for millennials to grow up before asking them to give. Similarly, if baby boomers want to be more hands-on with their giving, you need to create ways for them to volunteer.

FFTP does a tremendous amount of different work — it builds homes, digs water wells, and sends food. Donors may like one aspect of the work and not care about the rest. So, learn what your donors like, segment them accordingly, and deliver the content and opportunities that matter most to them.

Here are some other ways you can turn donor interest into programs they can support:

  • Ban gut feelings and rely on your data instead. Don’t assume you know what donors want; instead, conduct an EIS and have conversations with your constituents.
  • Track your data in a good technology system. Patterns will begin to emerge that will tell you which direction to take your programs.
  • Experiment with machine learning. There’s a wide variety of tools on the market today that can automate nearly every aspect of your fundraising, from segmenting donor lists to A/B testing email subject lines.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. You must be willing to shake things up and try something new. Track data, review the performance, and then try something else.
  • Bring in a consultant or marketing agencyAn outside opinion is often exactly what you need. Accept them and make them part of your mission.

What About Omnichannel Tactics to Cultivate Monthly Donors?

FFTP created a website geared toward monthly donations. A monthly giving option is on every page. This increased monthly donations tremendously and also grew giving at the major donor level.

Screenshot of web page with Give Monthly option

Television ads drove donors to phone call centers. To increase gifts, Aloma visited the centers and made sure workers there knew they were more than employees — that through their work, they’re saving lives. This motivated employees and, as a result, increased the average gift to $25 from $19.

In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, prayerful language on the website was also sent out in text messages. The organization received 500 responses on the first day texts went out. This campaign was followed with a series of emails — two were thank-you messages, and the other three asked for money. The emails brought in approximately $960,000.

“The Donor Doesn’t Give to Us Because We Have Needs. They Give to Us Because We Meet Needs — Especially Their Own.”

This quote from Aloma encapsulates the entire idea of donor-centricity. It emphasizes why it’s so important to let the donor know what impact their gift is having. If you talk in generalities, donors won’t feel you’re meeting their needs. By helping them fulfill this moral identity, they become very generous.

Get better fundraising results.