Love Your Donors


Love is what makes an arts organization run. Love of humanity, love of truth, love of craft and of magic. Love is what makes your donors give to you. The best way you can encourage that spirit of generosity is to love them back.

This Valentine’s Day, here are five easy ways to love your donors.

1. The Handwritten Note

The handwritten note is the most important fundraising tool. Just take one minute. Scrawl whatever is in your heart, “your giving makes us all smile” or “our talk today inspired me, thank you” and mail it. Don’t worry about your penmanship or spelling. Just take the time to share some love. They’ll love getting it in the mail, they’ll love opening it, they’re love reading it, and they’ll love showing it to a friend. They’ll feel special, because you’ve shown them that they are special.

2. Email with a Gift

Bribery? No. I don’t mean a gift like a trinket. I mean a gift like a thought or article or insight or image you know will connect with their personal tastes. If they loved your latest performance of Beethoven’s Eroica, share a recording you think is awesome. If they enjoy cookies, send a recipe. It lets them know they’re a real person to you. That you care about them beyond their checkbook.

3. Ask Them Their Opinion and Really Listen

There’s an old saying in fundraising. “If you want money, ask for advice.” Consciously or not, people can tell from how you listen to them whether you’re serious about a two way relationship. They can feel you listening. Ask a supporter a real question, one in their area of expertise or experience, and then listen. Then, show them you’ve listened by summarizing their input back to them at the moment, or, even better, in the handwritten note or email with a gift you send them after.

4. Take Some Advice and Report Back

When you ask someone for advice you’re creating a sort of contract. You’ve taken their time. Time is real and wildly valuable; it’s the ultimate scarce resource, and you don’t want to be thought of as someone who wastes it. When you ask for advice, follow up. “I reached out to Lucy like you said and she had all these questions…” Or, “I called up Tamir and he was extremely helpful, thank you…” Just follow up and let your donor know you made good use of their time.

5. Help Them Brag

People are generally proud of giving. Some are quiet about it and some like to take selfies at every arts event they attend. Either way, give a little something extra to your donors to help them brag about their important relationship with you. I find you can usually do this with insider information. Smart organizations make sure their donors know first about new seasons and artists. The smartest organizations find ways to put their donors in the room with their artists on the regular, ways that create authentic relationships. Every time you achieve an important milestone, communicate that out. Every time one of your artists has a success elsewhere, tell your closest people.

Keep your donors feeling the authentic love, take their advice, and keep them in the loop, and you’ll find they’ll be more than donors, they’ll be true friends, allies and ambassadors.


Josef has 18 years leadership and strategic experience at top arts and human services organizations, including Actors Theatre of Louisville, ACT Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra and Banchero Disability Partners.

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