Stop Trying to Teach Goldfish to Juggle

Goldfish on a white background

Goldfish on a white background

An important reality check for fundraisers: Some people donate and others don't.

As far as we fundraisers are concerned, there are two kinds of people in the world: Donors and non-donors. These two groups are so different from each other that they might as well live in different worlds — which, in a way, they do.

I know it’s oversimplifying to reduce the human race into just two groups. But it’s useful to remember that not everyone is the same, and some people are predisposed to give while others are not. Keeping this in mind can help us think much more clearly about raising funds. It’s easy to forget that we don’t “raise” those funds at all. People give them to us. It’s the donors — not us — who really make this whole thing work.

Of course, there are also people who are somewhere in between, who mix the characteristics of donors and non-donors. We’ll get to them later, because they matter a lot.

Here are some thumbnail sketches of the most committed donors and the most confirmed non-donors.


Donors tend to believe that change is possible, that they can make the world a better place. In fact, they believe in their own responsibility to have a positive impact.

It’s no surprise that they are very involved in the world in ways other than giving. They volunteer more often. Belong to civic, social or religious organizations. Give blood. They even commit small acts of kindness like giving up their seats on the bus to strangers significantly more often than non-donors.

The most important thing for us: Donors donate. They give regularly and to a variety of causes. They give because they want to, they know they should and because it feels good.

On the whole, donors welcome your fundraising. They see it as a chance to make a difference — to actualize who they are.

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  • Glenn Ross

    I normally agree with you but this time we don’t. I believe that Donors believe in change and have the means to give. One segment of Non-donors may believe in change but may not have the means to give (now). Other non-donors may not believe in change.

    Also, some donors also volunteer. Not all donors volunteer. Of course the more an individual is engaged with an organization, the more he or she contributes (time and/or money).