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🧦 Knock Their Socks Off: Three Things You Should Know About Your Biggest Donors

At The Olympia Collective, we always strive to exceed expectations and so do our nonprofit clients. They want to be able to make each of their donor’s dreams come true so that their mission becomes reality. There are so many simple ways to do this. And all of them involve focusing on the donor, not the organization.

The ways to be donor-centered are so vast that we could never fit them into a blog. So we decided to distill the many great choices into categories. And, the frontrunner category is something you may not have thought about: donor data.

And not just any donor data.

We’ve isolated OUR TOP THREE favorite data points to collect from your biggest donors that will really knock their socks off 🧦! This information can be used again and again to make your donors feel special.

We’ll give specific steps and rationale below on each of these three things: 1) Birth day and month; 2) Pet’s names; and 3) Dietary restrictions and allergies.

(SPOILER ALERT: These work like MAGIC with friends, family, and clients too! As do all donor-centered strategies!)

Want to Impress Your Biggest Donors? Find out these Three Things!

What we love about this activity is that it first reminds you to remember WHO your top donors are in the first place. Has it been awhile since you reviewed your donor lists? We suggest pulling your current and last two most recent fiscal year’s top 20 donors to start. Rank them in order of total giving each fiscal year. Then put the lists side by side. All names that appear on those lists should be your targets for your data expedition. Then, add all of your board members, regardless of giving status.

Once you have your top donors identified, it’s time to see what you know about them. We propose listing them in a spreadsheet with three columns to the right of each name, one for each of our data points. Then by checking your database and asking staff and others familiar with each person, see how much you already know. Add the information to the sheet. For any blank cells, you and your teammates can seek the information in subsequent conversations. It’s the perfect work scavenger hunt!

Here is more information on each of the data points and why they matter.


To us, it’s a no brainer to collect birth day and month. We do this with all of our clients (those of you reading this can attest to it!). We never ask for the year (although if it is volunteered please keep note of it). And we’re shocked how few nonprofits officially do or track this. Our for profit friends have already figured this out (just think of how many companies you give your birth day and year just to get an online coupon!).

Of COURSE you need to know this–there is the obvious advantage of not missing a birthday altogether. In fact, you may actually edge out your donor’s spouse if you can capture this data point: A study conducted by OnePoll, in conjunction with the online platform Evite, looked into the birthday celebration habits of 2,000 Americans and found that as many as 35 percent of people have had their significant other forget their birthday. Hey Honey, how do you like THAT?

NO ONE wants to be in the situation of signing a belated birthday card to someone that keeps your doors open. Anticipating birthdays ahead of time can help you and your team plan ahead to be sure to send timely birthday greetings, packages, and cards. You can take birthdays into account when scheduling meetings, leveraging executive and board member outreach, or even connecting your VIPs to others with similar birthdays. When you find out your top donor’s birthday coincides with another holiday, special event, or office closure, you can be sure to take extra care to call out their special day so that it is not overlooked. And if you are lucky enough to have the year, you now have the powerful information of when “big” birthdays are coming and can plan accordingly (and discreetly!).


Did you know that in the US there are way MORE households with pets than those with kids? Sixty-seven percent of all US households have a pet, while forty percent have a child under 18. And many have both! Asking for and documenting pet names is the perfect way to harvest development conversations that can make a huge difference to your donor.

First off, if you realize that many of your donors have pets, that could be a great seed of an idea for pet-friendly stewardship, donor gifts, cultivation, or fundraising events. Then there is the chance to have another contact with your donor to acknowledge their pet on the national days associated with each one, or even better yet, the pet’s birthday, which is a combination of two of our three items in ONE. Could you imagine if your favorite store for humans sent your furry friend a birthday card on its special day? THAT you would remember. This data requires savvy to keep updated, as many pets do not live very long. So when you commit to asking for and tracking pet data, you will want to be SURE the information is current. It is no fun to ask a donor about their furry friend and find out that it recently passed away. Occasional touch base questions about donor pets usually keep you well-informed, as pet owners love talking about their pets even more than we parents do about our kids.


Dietary restrictions and allergies are no joke and can represent life and death. For those with these sensitivities, it can be exhausting to have to constantly remind people about them. Some donors don’t want it to be obvious, either. As relationship managers, It is our duty when working with donors to be respectful of their needs and boundaries and this is a perfect example. It also demonstrates the importance of donor data confidentiality as well as protected health information. To carefully attempt to collect this data, we usually bring the question up first when a meal is upcoming and the information is usually gladly volunteered. This can be as simple as saying, “I’m really looking forward to our lunch in two weeks. I’ll book a restaurant for us–any dietary restrictions or allergies I should know about to help me choose the perfect option?” Then if they respond with information, write it down, and be sure to check the menu for options that will fit. Sometimes this information comes up in regular conversations, too, in absence of a meal, so keep your ears open for this very personal and meaningful information.

A very obvious use of this information is when meal planning and choosing venues/restaurants for meetings with meals. But it is also critical when you are putting together donor gifts and mailings. You don’t want to send peanut brittle to someone who has a nut allergy, or some of your favorite pumpkin bread if the recipient is gluten-free. If the donor is open to talking about his/her/their diet, it can also be a great way to keep in touch with them as you see headlines about those types of diets hit the news. You can also be sure to seat those with similar aversions near each other at events so that they are near those like them. And don’t forget, allergies can be other than food. The last thing you want to do is send birthday flowers to someone who is allergic to daisies or mums (which both, BTW, are on the top 10 most common flower allergies!).

Don’t Let Donor Data Collection Backfire on You — Add it to Your Database

Guess how having great donor data can BACKFIRE? When you collect it but a) don’t use it b) don’t remember it and c) don’t add it to your database. Which usually leads you to d) having the information walk out the door once the person who knows it leaves, too and e) a donor getting EXTREMELY annoyed when they tell you for the 6th time that they are sober and they politely decline their drink tickets.

Once you have filled out your spreadsheet, we recommend IMMEDIATELY adding the information to your donor database along with the date it was entered. If you can’t make or use custom fields, put the information in the Notes or Comments field of the donor record. Or make a contact report specifically with this information and upload or link it. Then we propose annual scheduled reviews of the information (you can add a task or calendar notice to remind you, or do it every year on the same day). Then, as you find out any updates throughout the year, make sure they are recorded in the database, too. This is a perfect task for the Prospect Manager, if you are a place that assigns them.

To refresh the data each year, you can include related questions into your next donor conversation. You could also create personalized surveys to send to each person for them to easily validate/update their information. Another way to do this easily in a big group is to have cards placed at board meetings with each board member’s info and asking them to circle any updates and return the form as part of the meeting itself. You’d be surprised how flattered and impressed people are when you ask and that you remembered.

You can totally understand how these data points work in action if you think about yourself. For example, our firm’s nickname happens to be the Collective, not TOC as some people have attempted to use. When they do, we immediately know they don’t know us. Or even worse, they didn’t hear us when we politely (and repeatedly) told them our naming preference. Don’t let your donors feel the same.

May the scavenger hunt begin!

PS We’ll be creating our next downloadable Toolkit item related to this very topic, so stay tuned!

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Founded and led by veteran nonprofit fundraiser Olympia Ammon, The Olympia Collective specializes in non-profit revenue generation, board & staff support, and data & insights. We empower our clients to deliver maximum impact to the communities they serve.

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