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Donor Participation Project

The Decline in Donor Trust: What Fundraisers Can Do

Donor trust in nonprofit institutions has declined significantly over the past 30-40 years. According to fundraising expert Jim Henry, this erosion of trust is damaging donor participation and relationships. However, fundraisers can take action to start rebuilding trust.

First, fundraisers need to build genuine relationships with donors based on shared interests and values. This means moving beyond a “donor-centric” approach and finding “portals of purpose”—areas of common ground where fundraisers and donors can work together as partners. Fundraisers should engage donors in real conversations to discover these shared purposes, rather than delivering “the pitch.”

Second, fundraisers must make a shift from seeing donors simply as “targets” to extract resources from. Instead, donors should be treated as equal partners in achieving the organization’s mission. This means embracing a philosophy of “getting together” rather than just “getting” from donors. Fundraising success should be measured not by dollars raised but by donor satisfaction and engagement.

Third, frontline fundraisers should provide “field intelligence” to leadership about donors’ priorities and concerns. By conducting donor interviews and surveys, fundraisers can gain insights into how to strengthen connections and then communicate these insights up the chain of command. This helps leadership make better strategic decisions and ensures the organization is adapting to donors’ changing needs.

Finally, fundraisers should pay close attention to long-time donors and milestone anniversaries of giving. Loyal donors giving over many years are ideal candidates for planned gifts and deeper partnerships. Recognizing and stewarding these donors helps build trust that their partnership is genuinely valued.

By following these principles, fundraisers can work to reverse the broader decline in donor trust. Building authentic relationships, finding shared purpose, providing useful insights, and valuing loyalty are timeless practices that nonprofit institutions must embrace to achieve sustainable success. With trust, participation will follow.

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

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