There it is in all its glossy glory: your campaign brochure.

All shiny, colorful and artfully-designed, filled with carefully curated photos and your beautiful words.

The campaign brochure can be a thing of beauty. But it can also be a breaker of the bank and a clutterer of valuable office space.

Some would even say it’s a venerable campaign tool of the past — one that has not aged well.

Times Change — Strategy Must Change Too

Times have changed since brochures were the primary tool in your campaign arsenal. Digital is now the order of the day; the printed word is read by fewer and fewer people. The average reading attention span — in print and online — is less than eight seconds, so say the gurus at Microsoft.

Those words you’ve written for your brochure may be beautiful, but if nobody is reading them, they’re nothing more than a long string of letters. And your gorgeous art? Well, if nobody reads the words, the art is just window dressing.

So, what would happen if you ditched the fancy brochure? What if you opted for a simpler, more collegial approach?

What if you grabbed one strategically-designed piece of paper, some colorful markers and sat down next to your donor for a heart-to-heart conversation about giving and what matters most in your campaign?

What very likely will happen is a lively discussion that will enhance your campaign strategy, strengthen your relationship with critical donors and increase giving.

What is a Donor Discussion Guide?

The Donor Discussion Guide is a living document offering basic steps you can customize to fit the conversation you’re about to have with a donor.

It literally gives your donors a hands-on look at the campaign. This makes the case easier to grasp at a glance and provides an ideal prompt for deeper conversation with your donors.

I developed the donor discussion guide format in the mid-2010s, patterning it for capital campaign use after a donor engagement tool created by my longtime friend Nick Fellers of ForImpact.

The donor discussion guide is a tool of few words. The goal is not to flood the donor with information, but to open a conversation that allows your donor to have his or her say and to feel they have a real role in the campaign’s ultimate success.

3 Sections of a Donor Discussion Guide

The specially-designed infographic covers the front and back on one large sheet of paper. The front page is divided into three sections:

  1. On the top, it will include bullets that answer the question WHY — what’s the impact of what you are raising money for?
  2. In the center section, it lists the WHAT — what are you going to do with the money your campaign will raise? And how much do you plan to raise?
  3. And at the bottom, the gift range chart provides what the donor needs to understand HOW they might participate in the campaign.

On the back, at your discretion, you can include some of the more typical campaign facts and data a donor might like. That might include a map, floor plans, statistics about your organization, a brief list of key staff and board members.

Your Goal? To Fully Engage the Donor

One of the keys to the success of the Guide is to make sure you genuinely involve the donor. The format of your meeting is simple. Sit together — it’s better if you sit next to the donor, rather than across. That suggests you are more interested in working together than simply making an ask. You are on the same side — literally and figuratively.

As you discuss the project, costs, impacts and directions, welcome the donor’s thoughts and questions. Invite them to underline and make notes on the sheet.

This approach gives you important in-person time with a donor and invites the donor to be a true player in thinking about the campaign. The donor will easily understand the campaign and informs their thinking about what they might give.

Be Sure to Include Your Gift Range Chart

As a rule of thumb, you’ll always want to include your Gift Range Chart on your donor discussion guide. This chart is an invaluable tool that helps your donor know where their gift fits in among the community of donors.

Some donors want to be leaders, giving one of the top gifts to the campaign. Your chart will can show them what that gift would be.

Other donors might not want to be lead donors, but would like to make a significant gift to the campaign. Again, the Gift Range Chart highlights where their gift falls in the bigger picture.

A Donor Discussion Guide Works Great In-Person or Virtually

In this post-pandemic era — where COVID is likely here to stay — this approach works as well online as it does in person.

If you’re on a Zoom call, email a pdf of the Donor Discussion Guide to your donor just before you talk and invite them to have it handy for the call. Or, if you’ve printed it out on wonderful paper, you might send it via the post in advance.

Once on the call, refer to the discussion guide and, when appropriate, share your screen. The technology on Zoom has yet to allow much interactivity, but you can highlight sections of special interest. Mark your own hard copy while you talk, snap a photo of it when you’re done, and you and your donor can exchange copies.

Visual Examples of Donor Discussion Guides

Here’s a basic template of what your infographic will look like:

Donor Discussion Guide - a basic template
Feel free to make changes that suit you and your mission.

Sample Donor Discussion Guides

Take a look at the samples below for more ideas (click the image to see the full document).

Sample Case for Support Alternate DocumentSample Visual Donor Discussion Guide

Final Thoughts

Your Donor Discussion Guide doesn’t take the place of a well-constructed written background statement that explains the project to your donors. It effectively simplifies and clarifies the case for your campaign.

You might even write a background statement that spells out what you want to do through the campaign and why it matters. Send that, along with the infographic, to your donor.

Then let the donor discussion begin!


  1. Dan Kirsch

    Thanks for promoting the ideas and useful tools from the folks at ForImpact. They’ve also been long-time critics of traditional feasibility studies. Knowing that you are promoting an updated, hybrid version of the campaign study, I wonder if you’d consider offering a conversation with Nick Fellers about your new model and their model of the leadership consensus building as an alternative to feasibility. Cheers!

  2. Linda Whittaker

    I would also suggest that links to brief video clips will add depth and interest, and are relatively straightforward. We have found interactive pdfs are a great way to enhance engagement.

    • Andrea Kihlstedt

      That’s a very interesting ideas, Linda. Thanks for suggesting it.


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