5 Insights from a Dinner with Donors

March 12, 2012

This past week, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a dinner with about a dozen men and women who fit our typical donor profile. Some were already familiar with CARE for AIDS and were supporting the ministry and others were learning about it for the first time. The objective of this dinner wasn’t to raise money. This meeting was created for the sole purpose of getting these people’s input into our fundraising strategy and initiatives. They gave us three hours of their time, and we captured pages of insightful notes. However, I’d like to boil it down to five key insights that have immediate implications for CARE for AIDS. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but they are principles or ideas that were either new altogether or for some reason had lapsed in our strategy.


  1. Most people initially connect with an organization or a cause because it’s personal. Either they’ve had a personal experience that involves that cause or personal connections in the organization. Maybe they had a cousin die of cancer, so because of that experience, they really connect well with cancer research organizations. Or, they know somebody in an organization, and they give because of that personal trust they have in that person. I don’t know many people who have been directly affected by HIV/AIDS, so the best way we are going to engage new donors is by creating more and more advocates who can make personal connections on our behalf.
  2. Challenge donors to go find one other person to join in. If you don’t ask them to do it, chances are good that they won’t. If they do want to invite other donors to join in, make sure you are giving them a wide array of tools to do that. They might want to invite that person to an event or on to a conference call. They also might want to send them printed materials or simply forward them an eNews update. If you have a one-dimensional communication plan, you limit how effective your advocates can be.
  3. Don’t forget small group dinners and luncheons. These were our bread and butter in our early days, but we got away from this a little bit. When someone is willing to invite their friends into their home to hear about CARE for AIDS, you’ve already earned the right to be heard. People let their guards down and really engage on a deeper level. I’d like to do more of this going forward.
  4. Help educate people about the reality of AIDS. I take for granted that most people have never been to Kenya and encountered HIV/AIDS face to face.  People are aware that AIDS is a problem, do they understand the full implications that this disease has on a person’s emotional state, their family, or the economy?  How can our donors really care if they don’t understand? Educating donors has got to be part of our strategy.
  5. Organize donors in sub-committees around key initiatives. This is a new way for us to think about volunteerism. Most of the time, people who serve with an organization want to be more engaged by giving to that organization. Since we don’t have a lot of opportunities for our donors to serve here in the U.S., we need to get creative. For example, maybe we create committees committed to organizing our annual gala or launching our CARE for AIDS running team (coming soon). It may seem like more of a hassle to manage these subgroups, but you’ll see a return through increased engagement.

What do you think we can do differently to achieve greater engagement among new and existing CARE for AIDS supporters?