The Donor Joy Recipe

by | Feb 11, 2016

Donor joy is elusive. If there’s a recipe for donor joy it is hard to find. In my experience the donor tries to get there by throwing a little of this and a little of that into the bowl, leaves out critical ingredients, and doesn’t bake it long enough. The entire time the donor is hoping for a wonderful experience that ends in joy.

The recipe for donor joy is often passed from donor to donor in the form of stories that are like a recipe with a missing ingredient. Some years ago the family recipe for brownies was written down and passed on to me. However, no matter how carefully I measure and follow the directions they still don’t come out exactly right, or so I’m told by my family. So I’ve resorted to testing other brownie recipes to the point that I finally have my own family recipe.

The recipe for donor joy should be easier than it is. But the truth is that it isn’t easy and requires work and testing.

Recently a donor told me about the excitement and anticipation of making a significant gift that was going to help expand a model program to multiple communities across the country. The donor expressed the importance of making an impact that could be reported six months and a year from now.

In the same conversation about how to ensure the organization was prepared for the level of reporting required by the donor were moments of hesitation about requiring anything that would create angst or pushback by the organization which might then ruin the anticipated moment of joy.

Surely there is a way to have it all. The donor joy recipe produces an impactful gift, the feeling a difference was made, success, appropriate levels of reporting and joy for all.

If I wrote a handbook for donor joy it would include a chapter on communication with a simple recipe for donor joy. Of course simple is a matter of perspective and communication is anything but simple.

My recipe would look like this:

Sweet Donor Joy

  • Equal parts: healthy board of directors, effective executive director and a need that when met changes the life of someone or someplace
  • 1 part clarity by the donor about what they hope to see accomplished by a gift
  • 2 parts donor questions for the nonprofit organization about how they will use the gift to meet the need
  • 2 parts nonprofit answers to the donor’s questions
  • 1 part explanation from the donor on reporting expectations
  • 1 ½ parts reporting by the organization
  • Stir the first four ingredients together until crumbly. Add the next three ingredients and mix on high until smooth. Bake until done. Mix the last two ingredients together to create the toping. ENJOY

Like any recipe if you get the wrong ingredients, get things out of order, don’t mix it enough, or bake long enough it won’t matter how sweet the topping is or pretty the final product. It won’t turn out like you hoped and the joy will elude you.

What I need now are testers to check my recipe and let me know how it works. What ingredients would you add? What would you change?

Donor joy is important enough to figure this out.


  1. Michele

    I loved this! Especially the first 4 ingredients being mixed until “crumbly” which does seem like about the right consistency! I would round up the 1 1/2 parts reporting to 2 parts reporting and meaningful appreciation. I feel like I’ve been baking donor brownies forever and every batch is different, and every once in a while, we do bake up an irresistible treat for all to enjoy! Keep baking and sharing the goods!

    • Your Philanthropy

      Great suggestion. The reporting and appreciation is so often overlooked. Thanks for the feedback.


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