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If you’re a nonprofit leader or fundraiser, have you ever called on your donors to ask them for their advice and insight, or are your meetings always leading to fundraising dollars?

If you’re only seeing your donors in terms of dollars and cents, start thinking of them also as your advisors to improve your marketing, programmatic and administrative efforts.

People are flattered when they’re asked for their advice and counsel because it means that you respected their opinion. It should also say that you are open to hearing the harshest critique they can give you about your organization. Your toughest critic, who cares about your charity and cause, is also your best advisor. That’s the person you should call first to have a meeting or spend time understanding where they think you have to improve.

No one likes to hear the harshest critiques about their nonprofit, particularly if you’re the leader because it can make you feel as if you’re not doing your job well enough. However, thoughtful criticism about your organization is the best feedback you can receive.


I’ve mentioned in the past that during our executive team meetings, we always have an agenda item that is called “Opportunities.” For our team meeting, opportunities are when we put on the table the criticisms about our brands. The reason we call these “opportunities” is that any critique is a chance for our companies or brands to do better. We don’t want dissatisfied partners, and you shouldn’t want donors who give to your cause but don’t tell you what they really think so you can step up your game.

Feedback Loop

We know that Bill Gates has been one of the leading entrepreneurs of our time. And before he and his wife set out to make a difference in the world, he led Microsoft to extraordinary success. Of that experience has said, “You’ve got to want to be in this incredible feedback loop where you get the world-class people to tell you what you’re doing wrong.” He also said that your fiercest critics are those that teach you the most. Although Gates said meant it for business, the same advice holds true for nonprofits.

Major Donors

We know the vast majority of the 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States operate with budgets of less than 1 million, and every donor is essential to their operation. But major donors can help groups develop to scale. In many instances, they are the group giving significantly more than an organization’s general gift donors combined. One of the best places to start is by talking to major donors, even your toughest critic, with whom your nonprofit has created a relationship.

Feedback Questions

These donors, particularly if they have been giving to your group for years, want to be of service. Major donors who are critical of your cause but continue to give, care about the cause and want you to improve. What may seem like complaints are actually opportunities for you to get better at what you do. Some of your major donors are the best people to ask about how you can improve. There are three fundamental questions you can ask any major donor to help them open up and give you the feedback and information you need to keep growing your nonprofit work.

  1. What keeps you passionate about our cause?
  2. Do you feel you understand the impact of our organization?
  3. What can we do better, in your view?

These three questions are all open-ended, and there’s no right or wrong answer; however, they can start the conversation about why they stay involved, if they truly understand what you do and––always––how to improve.

One of the best ways to start getting an essential feedback loop for your nonprofit from your most significant donors is to get your fundraising team to begin asking the questions. Get them used to checking in with major donors, and from time to time from general donors (e.g., surveys) so you can get a good understanding of what people outside of your team view as your strengths, but also areas for improvement (i.e., opportunities).

There’s always room for improvement, and by asking candid feedback from your donors, you’ll learn insights that you probably wouldn’t figure out or see clearly on your own.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: How to Dominate Your Fundraising to Create Your Success” (Free Digital Download)

© 2018 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.