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Why fundraisers need to love their donors


3 March 2021 at 5:43 pm
Maggie Coggan
Philanthropic psychologist Jen Shang speaks to Pro Bono News following her talk at the Fundraising Institute Australia conference 2021 


Maggie Coggan | 3 March 2021 at 5:43 pm


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Why fundraisers need to love their donors
3 March 2021 at 5:43 pm

Philanthropic psychologist Jen Shang speaks to Pro Bono News following her talk at the Fundraising Institute Australia conference 2021 

A UK fundraising expert says fundraisers must shift their thinking and “love” their donors – rather than the money they give to the organisation – in order to create sustainable fundraising. 

Jen Shang, the world’s only philanthropic psychologist and a speaker at this year’s Fundraising Institute Australia conference, told Pro Bono News that for many years, giving as a percentage of disposable income had not increased.  

She said that this was because fundraisers and charities only focused on the action of giving, rather than the whole person that was doing the giving. 

“An action is such a small part of what being a human is, and by focusing on giving, we can only encourage two per cent of giving,” Shang said.

“But if we find a way to focus on the giver who does the giving, then we tap into the 98 per cent of the resources that could be deployed to grow and sustain that action.

“That’s why I think orienting the love toward the person is extremely important.”

Let’s talk about love 

While it might seem like a big step, Shang said that it was important to use the word love when describing the relationship a fundraiser has with a donor.     

“I often get asked why it has to be loving the person, why can’t you just encourage the person or motivate the person? Well, the answer is, what do you want back from the person?” she said.

“Because if you want the person to love you back then you better start loving the person.”

This can be done by authentically communicating with donors, selecting adjectives that resonate with donors such as kind, compassionate or caring in an ask, and thanking donors straight away.  

Shang said that even the most talented fundraisers have trouble with the use of the word love, but that was because they were using the wrong definition – companionate, rather than compassionate love.    

“I think primarily the definition that the resistance comes from, [is] love being equal to the sexual relationship that is typically portrayed in popular culture,” she said. 

“And that is not what all love can be, because when we begin to define love in a more rigorous way and measure it in a more scientific way I don’t think we’ll be so resistant to it.” 

It makes a difference 

Shang is also the co-founder of the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy, an organisation that uses science to create a more memorable giving experience by focusing on increasing the wellbeing of supporters.  

According to evidence collected by the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy, NFPs that adopt these principles of loving their donors see a doubling of giving within 18 months. 

“When they begin to use what they learn from our courses in their practices, usually they see an uplift within about six months in giving,” Shang said. 

She said that in 2021, it was time for charities to be introspective about their practices, and to rethink how they were going about their fundraising. 

“I think that we need to get on board with the message that there is an alternative approach,” she said.  

“It can’t stay the same that it has been for so many years, there is a deeper science behind it.” 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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