DickersonBakker Blog

How You Need to Engage a Builder Vs. Buyer Donor

It was 2008 and I was entering into my first Q4 fundraising season. I had been tasked to help raise $9 million for a capital campaign while also ensuring a strong year-end for the annual fund. 

One of my first campaign meetings was with a well-known, high-profile philanthropist who was a current major donor of the rescue mission I was representing.

We met at a local coffee shop across from Duke University’s East Campus. I’ll never forget the meeting. Halfway through my pitch, the donor politely but enthusiastically interrupted me. Here’s our conversation: 

Donor: “Shawn, I appreciate what you’re doing and am a supporter of the cause because I believe that the rescue mission is helping the neediest in our community. But let me stop you because I have a question: How much is the campaign again?” 

Me: “$9 million is the approximate target and there’s a chance that it will be split into two phases.” 

Donor: “How many men and women are currently staying at the rescue mission?”

Me: “150 total.” 

Donor: “Ok. So let me ask you this. I want you to show me how the Mission is going to deliver $60,000 of increased value for each man or woman. How is $9 million in new facilities going to translate into better outcomes than present day?” 

At this point, the conversation became a coaching moment for me as a young fundraiser. Although this was a very savvy donor (probably the smartest and savviest I’ve ever met with), he had an incredible heart for Durham and was passionate about modeling the love of Christ. However, he only invested large philanthropic gifts for the purpose of building an organization’s capacity. Moreover, if there weren’t clear, definitive outcomes spelled out as part of the case for support—with ROI projections—he wasn’t even going to consider the request.

The Difference Between Builder Vs. Buyer Donors

A few years following, I ran across an article produced by Nonprofit Growth Capital entitled “Building isn’t Buying.” I immediately recognized the truth contained in this article because since that fateful meeting in 2008, I had learned that there are other major donors like that high-profile philanthropist. This article called them “Builders.”

This species of donor cannot be approached like a buyer. Buyers fund mission. Builders fund vision. 

Buyers tend to function as sustainers. Builders fund growing capacity and don’t want ongoing dependency for making large capital investments. 

Buyer’s are more willing to live with just seeing outputs and yet still funding the organization’s operating budget. Builders have to see outcomes before they consider making a large investment. 

Buyers are more willing to live with just story-based fundraising and don’t necessarily need a business case to be made for maintaining ongoing support. Builders need story to initially capture their imagination. But they also must see a strong value proposition that encompasses increasing outputs and improving scalability for them to generously invest. 

Start to look for the builders in your database and especially on your portfolio of major donors. Start appealing to them in a way that excites them. You’ll likely see more capital based investments which can be leveraged to grow other builders, but also to grow deeper levels of support from the buyers. And of course all of this is tied to growing capacity and scaling-up based on a legitimate community need and demand.

Let’s talk more about engaging your organization’s builder and buyer donors. Contact us here to start the conversation >>

Back to blog