The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

How would Walt Disney treat your donors?


Disney is famous for creating magical experiences.

What if you took a page right out of their playbook? How would Disney delight your donors?

I had a front row seat to one of the best sessions at the AFP International Fundraising Conference this March: Wayne Olson’s “Donor Relations the Disney Way”. Wayne is an author, consultant and Disney mega fan. His session was so infinitely enjoyable and fascinating I set out to recruit him to do a guest webinar. You can enjoy every second of it in this recording. Next I started ordering Disney books on Amazon. My favorite? Be Our Guest

What tips from Disney could transform your approach to donor relations? Enjoy these pearls of wisdom from Wayne, and stay tuned for his upcoming book on this very topic!  

  1. The customer may not always be right but they are always our customer.
  2. Take time to show you care. The personal touch is a way of life.
  3. Who you are matters as much as what you know.
  4. Curiosity (and need) can inspire greatness. Walt Disney’s inspiration for Disneyland came when he sat, bored and lonely, on a park bench with a bag of peanuts watching his daughters have fun playing on the carousel. He told himself, “There ought to be a place where families can have fun together.”  
  5. Preserve the “magical” guest experience. What’s the rule at Disney? “Talking about personal or job-related problems in front of guests is unacceptable."
  6. Disney created special experiences that cost nothing but were rich with symbolism or ritual for their guests, such as having a guest be part of a flag ceremony at opening or lead a parade. What can you do for your donors that means a lot and is free? Memories are free. How can you build them?
  7. One of Disneyland’s gardeners, frustrated that guests were trampling his flower beds insisted to Walt that “we must build a fence”. Walt’s response? “No. We must pave a path.” Study your customers. Observe their behavior. Trust them. Listen to them. Honor them. Disney used to sit overlooking Main Street looking out through a window just watching his guests.
  8. Challenge assumptions. It’s hard to believe now but before Walt launched Disneyland he asked amusement park experts for their advice. What did they say? Don’t waste money on landscaping, the jungle cruise will never work, you have too much wasted landscaping and that custom rides would never work.  
  9. Honor the people that make your mission possible. Walt said “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
  10. Ask yourself – what business am I REALLY in? Restaurants sell food but what they really sell is convenience.

Disney doesn't have biggest roller coaster but they have most attendance because they make it special. What would Walt tell you to do right now? “The way to get started is to stop talking and start doing.”

rachelmuir.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Rachel Muir, CFRE is Vice President of Training at Pursuant, where she transforms individuals into confident, successful fundraisers through classroom, custom and online training. When she was 26 years old, Rachel Muir launched Girlstart, a non-profit organization to empower girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. 

Topics: Fundraising Donor Relations Nonprofit