How to Partner with Your Donors to Change the World

As part of my research for a presentation at a fundraising conference, I reached out to colleagues around the world in my quest to find charities living and working a donor-centric model.

I discovered that while lots of individual fundraisers and fundraising teams were doing a stellar job of improving their direct communications with donors, the approach did not necessarily extend to the entire Development or Fundraising department, let alone the entire organization.

My presentation was supposed to highlight not one, but two case-studies. I realized what a challenge I’d set myself!

After three months of research, I finally resigned myself to presenting mini-case studies of some of the great things organizations are doing to engage and build relationships with their donors …

  • sharing emotional stories
  • growing in Memoriam donors into Legacy Donors
  • telling their donors they love them without asking for a gift at the same time
  • engaging donors in mission-related activities

I was disappointed that I could not find organizations somewhere in the world that are successfully living and working a donor-centric model. Surely they must exist.

But then I recalled an organization I consulted with some years back when I worked at Mal WarwickCorporate Accountability International (CAI).

More than any other organization I’d come across at the time, CAI recognized the value of a donor. I wondered how they were doing. It was time to catch up.

WOW! So pleased I did.

CAI is an excellent example of how to live and work a donor-centric model. CAI knows from years of experience, that the more aware and involved their members are, the greater impact members can make on the mission. And they get results! They really are making a mega difference in the world.



CAI’s focus on MEMBERSHIP ENGAGEMENT PATHWAYS is central to CAI’s success:

CAI takes a campaign approach. At the moment, they’re running three major campaigns; Water (challenge corporate control of water), Food (challenge corporate abuse of food), and Tobacco (challenge Big Tobacco).

1. Campaign and Fundraising staff work together to strategize a Membership Engagement Pathway for each campaign. Given the nature of CAI’s mission, they recognize they need supporters who have influence and/or money.  CAI knows that INFLUENCE + MONEY = IMPACT

2. These Engagement Pathways provide a structured framework to channel each donor’s capacity and impact potential.

3. Any new member who gives $15 or more (yes, you read right, $15) is immediately called and thanked by volunteers. It’s a vital opportunity to connect with supporters and ask questions about their motivations and interest in the cause, and to explore the new member’s interest relative to taking action and providing financial support. This information helps CAI filter the supporter into one or more engagement pathways.

Twice a year, CAI holds an in-house ‘Phone Bank’ to connect with supporters and all Staff and Board Members are expected to participate. In addition, there are ongoing ‘Action Banks’ – calls to action relative to either influence or money.



1. The Board, Staff, Volunteers and Supporters have a common goal = MISSION IMPACT

2. CAI recognizes that they are in partnership with their supporters to achieve mission impact.

3. The concept of being “all in this together” to achieve mission impact, means any silo mentality between individuals and teams is not tolerated.

4. Every staff person has both fundraising and organizing (program) responsibilities and is evaluated accordingly. Development staff are lead fundraisers at the same time as gathering campaign input and making referrals to Campaign staff. Campaigners participate in various fundraising efforts – the phone bank, foundation grants, visits with donors, making referrals to Development staff.

5. CAI takes strategic planning seriously. Their Five Year Strategic Plan highlights the priorities at every level of the organization and is used as a guiding document, with both fundraising and action integrated as part of the overall strategy.

6. CAI counts and tracks everything, and they celebrate success.


CAI clearly knows how to partner with their donors to change the world. Does this focus and behaviour sound familiar to you? How can your supporters contribute to the impact your organization makes in the world? Money is the obvious one. But what else? What would your program staff want donors and other supporters to do? Does everyone in your organization see donors as partners in achieving the mission?

Please leave a comment to share the challenges you face and/or how the organization you work for is donor-focused.