I’ve always wondered at the word “stewardship.” Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as:

stewardship — management of something entrusted to one’s care.

But when I think of donors, I don’t really like to think about managing them. I prefer to think about making them happy.

The heart of the matter is this:  As a donor, I don’t want to be managed but I do want to feel happy that I support an organization. And you and your donors probably do too.

Donor Happiness Follows Giving

Here’s a simple list of some key things most donors want when they give to an organization.

  • They want to know what their gifts are used for.
  • They want to know that they’ve made a difference.
  • They want to know that they and their gifts are appreciated.
  • They want to feel included.
  • They want to celebrate the organization’s successes.

But they don’t want to feel manipulated just so they will give more.

Of course, happy donors tend to give more when they are asked. So, while every good development office needs effective systems for keeping track of their donors, when the focus is first on making their donors happy, the rest will follow.

8 Ways to Make Your Donors Happy

To find the answer to this question, I reached out to Sarah Plimpton, the Capital Campaign Toolkit’s Chief Happiness Officer! Here’s what she said:

Making your donors happy boils down to knowing them and letting them know you. That’s the foundation of any good relationship.

Below is Sarah’s advice about how to treat your donors to make them happy.

  1. See the whole donor, not just their wallet.
  2. Understand each donor’s motivations, expectations, hopes and fears.
  3. Know, embrace and anticipate their quirks.
  4. Own any missteps you might make with a donor quickly and authentically.
  5. Recognize missteps as opportunities to deepen your relationship with the donor.
  6. Hand as much organizational success to donors as possible, allowing them to bask in the results of their philanthropy.
  7. Listen and connect their ideas to the organization rather than convincing and selling your needs.
  8. Mirror back to donors what you see and understand about them, their giving, their hopes and their impact.

It comes down to this — if you get to know your donors and you share with them and involve them in your organization, you will build enduring relationships that make your donors happy that they have chosen to support your organization.

Manage Your Fundraising, NOT Your Donors

As your development program grows, you will need complex systems to capture information and manage your fundraising. But never confuse managing your fundraising program with managing your donors.

Your job with your donors, at every level, is to make them happy they are contributors to your organization. Your fundraising will flourish assuming you keep your donor’s happiness front and center.

Welcome to Sarah Plimpton, Chief Happiness Officer

The Capital Campaign Toolkit is happy to announce that Sarah Plimpton has been appointed Chief Happiness Officer. Sarah will work through the Capital Campaign Toolkit with our clients and Toolkit Advisors to make sure that they are getting what they need to support their work.

Sarah has been in capital campaign fundraising for nearly 20 years. She has been a consultant and worked in the trenches as a development director. In addition to operating as our Chief Happiness Officer, Sarah is also a Toolkit Advisor.


  1. toudjidoum

    I’ve no great comment to engage this time nevertheless I’m feeling of satisfaction because of I can have met Sara with which we will do a lot of things in the future.
    Once more thanks for her to give me the opportunity of giving my point of view.
    Altogether I have just to send to you my Capital Campaign Plan for everything to start with me thank to in the good conditions.

  2. Sharon Callon Schwartz

    Love the “never confuse managing your fundraising program with managing your donors”.

  3. Barbara Barron

    Great piece, Sarah! Love how you practice what you teach.
    Congrats on the new job with the Tool Kit. We’re all better for you being in that role.


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