What is Your Donor’s Emotional Connection?

nonprofit fundraising best practices
What is Your Donor’s Emotional Connection?

Most of your donors are probably giving because they have an emotional connection with your organization’s work. Finding those connections is a key step in developing a happy relationship with the donor.

Here’s an example: We were working with a client this week on a strategy to approach a mega-donor for a $7-8 figure gift.

It would require a very delicate approach because so much was at stake. This gift could be the lead gift for their capital campaign – and set the pace for many other leadership gifts.

But laying out the correct strategy for an ask was quite complex: there was so much to consider!

We looked at the family history in detail – who gave when? Who was involved when? What levels of generational involvement could we trace?

Then we looked at giving track records, including all the data on various family members’ gifts over the past years. In addition, we reviewed the wealth screening of various family members. 

Even more, we discussed the family’s proclivities. They’ve given matching challenge gifts, so we wondered if that might be a focus. On the other hand, we wondered if they like naming opportunities. Then again, do they like to give at the beginning or the end of a campaign? We were not sure. 

But What is the Donor’s Emotional Connection?

After all this data, historical analysis, and deliberation, we finally asked a key question: “What is their emotional connection?”


Everyone sat back and started thinking. What WAS the emotional hot button that would trigger a mega gift? 

How did the donor family FEEL about this organization and its work? What was their powerful emotional connection to its mission? 

Answer: It turns out that several family members had had direct experience as patients/beneficiaries of this organization’s work.   As patients, the family saw first-hand the power and impact this organization created in the world. They had what you might call a “personal hook.”

Mushy Donors. 

Kathryn and I have a saying: Donors are Mushy. Their hearts are throbbing with joy, passion, sorrow, and deeply felt emotions – all on behalf of an organization’s work. Their emotional connections are very strong! 

Here’s the rub: Fundraisers approach donors far too intellectually and neglect the emotional connection. It’s like fundraisers are about data and analysis, while the donors are about mushy emotions. 

Here’s where fundraisers are coming from too often: 

We are too businesslike with our donors – often focusing solely on impact and outcomes. Or we may be distracted while we are thinking about the presentation that we’ve customized for this special donor. 

Perhaps we are nervous and thinking about what we are going to say to the donor, and when we will say it. Above all, we are super organized, and perhaps a bit overly scripted when we go in to see a donor. 

But donors are coming from a completely different space: 

They may be touching something deep inside themselves that resonates with your organization’s mission.  For example, they may be fondly remembering their mom, or their granddad, who devoted hours to this charity. 

Even more, they may have had a personal experience – even for a brief time – with the power of sublime art, the joy of learning, or even a spiritual revelation. Or they have encountered poverty, lack of emotional support, housing issues, neediness, addiction, illness, or any number of justice issues.

These deeply felt emotions can easily bring them to tears, touching their heart to the core. Even more, these personal experiences are enough to change their hearts forever. 

Most donors have a specific reason for wanting to support a nonprofit. And it has to do with how they FEEL about their organization’s work. It’s all about their personal values- what they believe in and what they hold dear.

A donor’s personal values are the key to their mega gift. 

How to Have an Easy Visit with a Donor

Simply ask them if they’d please share their story of why they became a donor. Or ask them to share why they chose your nonprofit to support. Ask, “how is it that you are interested in this particular mission.”

And the donors will tell you! They will go on and on about their history, their family, their experiences, their feelings, and everything else. You just need to ask. 

This is, quite simply, the key to their gift. Remember the more the donor lives in this important emotional space while they are talking to you, then the more they remember how much they really do care. And donors who really care, and who have the capacity, really do want to help. 

This is how our clients are securing six and seven-figure gifts without even asking for their capital campaigns. They simply focus on the donor’s emotional connection to their cause, why the donor cares so much, and why they are so committed.

Then it’s easy to say, “would you like to help?” 

Then, you can segue into an oblique Gift Discussion, using ask conversation techniques that we teach our clients. 

Bottom Line: The Donor’s Emotional Connection Will Open the Door to Their Mega Gift

Stay in the emotional space with a donor, and they will open up, connect with you, and prime themselves to want to help. 

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly insights with you as we cover important fundraising strategies. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.