The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

How to Host a Donor Thought Circle

Year-End Donor Management Made Easy

As nonprofit fundraisers, you work hard to attract new donors to your cause. The real challenge begins after they’ve made a gift: How do you keep donors engaged and giving over time? We learned some great ideas from Rachel Muir in our webinar Turn Year-End Donors into Year-Round Supporters. One of our favorites: Host a donor thought circle.

A donor thought circle is a fun, low-key cultivation event. Your goals are to find out what attracted these folks to your cause and how you can make them and others feel more engaged. The questions you ask will help you learn firsthand what’s working in your fundraising strategies. Giving donors a chance to be heard—face to face—makes them feel more invested in your cause and unearths new ideas for future outreach.

Gather a small group of donors in a controlled social setting—maybe a private room in a restaurant, a conference room at your location, or even the home of a long-term volunteer or board member. You might invite first-time donors at a certain gift level, major gift donors, or a cross-section of donor types. Use your donor database system to cut a list that gives you a good representation of different types of donors. A guest list of 30 people will likely result in about 15 or so who actually show up.

A successful event allows for group discussion. Good themes for donor thought circles are social and relaxed, like a local wine and cheese tasting or a roundtable buffet breakfast. Write your invitation so it’s clear what people will encounter at the event: “We’re hosting a donor thought circle to hear what you think about our work. Please join us at a craft beer tasting (or brunch, cocktail hour, etc.). We’ll ask questions and listen to your ideas to help guide our mission into the future.”

Pay attention to the social dynamics during the thought circle. Some people will be more dominant than others, more vocal and outspoken. You’ll identify those donors pretty early on. Try to call on them last so the quieter, more introverted people have a chance to speak. Of course, those guests don’t have to speak in front of the group if they don’t want to. Some donors will be more comfortable chatting individually before or after the group Q&A.

Here are five conversation starters for your donor thought circle:

  1. What connected you to us?
  2. What made you decide to become a donor?
  3. How can we encourage other people to give to our cause?
  4. How can we make you feel more special and appreciated?
  5. What things would make people feel more special and appreciated?

When you read those last two questions, you probably thought, “Why ask the same question twice?” They’re actually different questions: “you” versus “people.” Put yourself in a donor’s shoes. You might not feel comfortable in front of your peers answering what would make you feel more special and appreciated, but you’re likely to give an honest answer about people in general. If a donor passes on question four, they’ll probably speak up for number five.

The great thing about hosting a donor thought circle is that no matter what you take away from the event, your donors will leave feeling good about supporting your organization and are more likely to continue giving and spreading your message to their circles.

For more great tips on building long-term donor relationships, download the Nonprofit 911 webinar: Turn Year-End Donors into Year-Round Supporters.

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About This Blog

Lisa Bonanno
Vice President of Digital Marketing

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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