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Donor Participation Project

Face-to-Face Conversations Reveal Deeper Donor Motivations: How One University Learned to Better Serve Long-Time Supporters

One university in Chile realized they didn’t truly understand their long-time donors. They conducted in-depth, face-to-face interviews with 31 loyal supporters who had given for 3-30 years to discover what really motivated them to give and stay engaged over the long run.

The interviews revealed insights that surprised the fundraising team. Donors gave to support the university’s mission and institutional longevity, not for recognition or benefits. They wanted to feel like partners in the university’s impact and success. The donors craved more information about the university’s work, priorities, impacts and challenges. They wanted authentic conversations and an open exchange of ideas.

Based on these findings, the university revamped their donor communications and stewardship strategy. They now send more frequent newsletters with information about key university initiatives, impacts, and needs. They invite donors to campus for intimate discussions on topics of mutual interest. They created tailored reports for donors at all levels showcasing the collective impact of their gifts.

The new approach is paying off. Open rates for newsletters have jumped to 50% and more donors are attending campus events. Several interview participants made additional gifts after their conversations. The university’s fundraising team learned the power of asking open-ended questions, listening without judgment and speaking with donors peer-to-peer.

The university’s experience shows that even long-time supporters can surprise us. When donors become more than just sources of funding and are treated as true partners, their motivation and generosity can expand in unexpected ways. But unlocking these opportunities requires nonprofit fundraisers to set aside their assumptions and have courageous, two-way conversations with the people who make their mission possible. While resource-intensive, these kinds of honest exchanges and institutional transparency are what transform donors into lifelong champions and build meaningful, impactful partnerships. Overall, this university’s journey reflects the importance of listening well, learning continuously and nurturing relationships with care and empathy.

View the full recording of this session in ourĀ Resource Library.

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