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How to Connect with Donors

Thomas Wolf


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Acclaim for
How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise

“Story by story, this book is brimming with wisdom. Inspiring but practical, rooted in long experience but immediately applicable, it proves Tom’s point: that fundraising is all about building relationships.”

            - Rushworth M. Kidder, President
            Institute for Global Ethics
            Trustee, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

“Tom Wolf focuses on the relationship side of fundraising, and therefore provides welcome relief as the craft becomes increasingly metric-oriented – the number of calls, meetings, asks. He provides great encouragement to use more imagination, time, and care in connecting to people.”

            - Christine W. Letts, Senior Associate Dean
            Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in the Practice of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership
            Harvard Kennedy School

“How to Connect with Donors provides us with the insights we all need to be at our best and at our most effective. Tom gives us his best with a light and humorous touch.”

- Tony Woodcock, President
            New England Conservatory

“With colorful and provocative stories Tom Wolf reminds us that fundraising is an art not a science. It is about people, not about institutions. When did you last enjoy a book about asking people for money?”            

- Michael Marsicano, President and CEO
            Foundation for the Carolinas

“The stories in How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise vividly provide examples of what makes for a successful fundraising effort and a successful fundraiser.      

  - Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D
            Dana Brown President & CEO
            Saint Louis Zoo

“Tom Wolf addresses the practical and ethical dilemmas and unexpected joys of fundraising with candor and wit.”

- Paul Brest, President, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Dean Emeritus, Stanford Law School

“Tom Wolf compresses decades of experience into a very salient and easily read presentation. It’s particularly valuable for the volunteers who are the foundation of fundraising for most not-for-profit organizations.” 

  - David F. Hales, President
            College of the Atlantic

“Fundraising is always about two things: relationships and storytelling. Tom Wolf understands both, and he has the skill as a storyteller to put the importance of relationship into just the right narrative context.”

- Maxwell King, Former President of The Heinz Endowments and Chair of the Board of The Council             on Foundations

“Practical, funny, clear, innovative – Tom Wolf’s book is all these things and more. His real world experiences demystify the art of asking for money and remind us that giving always starts with the heart.”  

           - Lee W. Salter,  President & CEO
            The McConnell Foundation


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This article is adapted from Thomas Wolf's How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise. ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email kbrennan@emersonandchurch.com.

The Fallacy of In-Your-Face Fundraising

Boz, as he was affectionately called, was a superb fundraiser – a schmoozer, something of a gossip, and people loved being around him.

Each year, the list of donors to the Friends Neighborhood Guild would grow. Yet never in the years I knew him did I ever catch Boz at his desk. He was always in the community, expanding his circle, charming people.

The consummate master of relationship building, Boz had the ability to get to know people and a special knack for turning those acquaintances into committed supporters. And watching him do it – to my own mother, no less! - was marvelous fun.

Boz met Irene at a party and rather than answer her initial questions about his work, he used his inimitable charm to learn about her background.

My mother was born in Russia and spoke several languages. She often served as a foreign language guide at the local art museum. Boz drew her out as she told amusing tales about her more colorful “clients.”

“You have so many fascinating stories to tell,” he said. “I wish you’d come visit our students.” Boz didn’t push hard but he managed to convince Irene to visit the Guild. And when she did, he made sure she was treated like a celebrity.

This was classic Boz. Surely he considered Irene a fundraising prospect. But he never mentioned money. In fact, she was well into her second year of volunteering before he asked for a gift. By that time, she was totally committed. Boz had taken an acquaintance and transformed her into a beloved member of his organizational family. She in turn became a donor and a fundraiser on his behalf.

In teaching me the elements of “friendraising,” Boz counseled patience coupled with genuine interest. “The contributions will come in time (or they won’t). But that isn’t the place to begin. Never ask a stranger for a large gift.”

This latter advice was a bit of an exaggeration, of course. We request donations from plenty of people we don’t know (and are often successful doing so). If we had to know each of our donors personally, our organizations would wither.


OF RELATED INTEREST: A watershed book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks prepares you for the tough questions you’ll inevitably face from prospective donors. Harvey McKinnon identifies 11 such questions, ranging from “Why me?” to “Will my gift make a difference?” to “Will I have a say over how you use my gift?” And the suggested answers are illuminating. Whether you’re a board member, volunteer, or staff, your ability to respond to these 11 questions will largely determine your fundraising success.

But in an age when fundraising books and courses teach the science and metrics of list building, Boz’s empathic wisdom was an important complement for two reasons. First, it was built on the idea that prospect lists take on much greater value when the names become flesh-and-blood people; and, second, that a major benefit of this approach is that it so often results in turning the casual small donor into an intensely loyal and large one.

Boz taught me another valuable lesson in the art of friendraising and again it involved my extended family, many of whom were active in philanthropy. My mother offered access to what was an A-list of prospects. Boz knew it. But his approach was cautious.

He never asked Irene to solicit any family members. What she did instead was to provide precious information about uncles, cousins, and brothers-in law – what their interests were, what charities they supported, what activities their children were involved in, where their children went to school.

In addition, she often included Boz at gatherings where he could get acquainted with family members. His ability to draw them out and show interest in their favorite activities was uncanny (or so it seemed to them). Most were unsuspecting that much information had been provided in advance by my mother.

The lesson here is simple but one I so often missed. Sometimes the direct approach in fundraising isn’t the best – working a connection quietly and behind the scenes is.

In the past decade, I’ve been reminded of this lesson again and again. I see many trustees and volunteers bristling at the pressure placed on them to be more aggressive in tapping their friends and relatives. Often it seems like an either/or dilemma – either they “make the asks” or they fail to fulfill their responsibilities.

Boz showed there was a third way – an indirect approach that may be best for everyone involved. It allows people to be helpful while not putting them in the position of jeopardizing key relationships. Boz never left his trustees and volunteers off the hook. But he always managed to find a comfortable way for them to succeed.

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About the Author

Dr. Thomas Wolf’s career encompasses the fields of philanthropy, nonprofit management, education, and the arts.

After serving as the founding Director of the New England Foundation for the Arts for seven years, he established a consulting firm in 1983 (now called WolfBrown) to assist nonprofit organizations and the philanthropic sector. 

Helping his clients increase fundraising results and improve management practices, he also assisted 10 of the 50 largest U.S. foundations and various government agencies with their grants programs. 
At the same time, his workshops and convocations for trustees, administrators, and volunteers have earned him national recognition.

Wolf holds a doctorate in education from Harvard, and has taught at Harvard and Boston Universities. He is the author of the definitive textbook on nonprofit management that has been in print for over a quarter century (now titled Managing a Nonprofit Organization in the 21st Century) and he has written numerous other books and articles.

A professional flutist whose career included touring with the Goldovsky Opera Theatre and founding Bay Chamber Concerts in Maine, he is currently listed in the International Who’s Who of Music.

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Table of Contents


  1. I’d love to get to know you better
  2. Enough about me!
  3. What’s wrong with talking about money?
  4. It’s the donor’s ballgame
  5. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!
  6. Remember the children
  7. Can you be too close to ask?
  8. Why isn’t he giving?!
  9. When donors disappoint
  10. Recovering from a fumble
  11. But I can’t stand the fellow!
  12. Whose friend are you anyway?
  13. We honor his memory
  14. Grantmakers need attention too        


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