Ever since I first read “Awaken the Giant Within” back in college, I’ve learned that bringing Tony Robbins up in conversation is a great social litmus test. People’s eyes either light up as if you are a part of some secret tribe, they gloss over as if you are part of some tribe, or they remain neutral as if you you might have some secret.

Whatever class of pupils in which you may find yourself, fundraisers are sure to learn a lot from some of his core lessons based off of his background in NLP [neuro-linguistic-programming] – especially those with regard to his theory of “The Six Human Needs”:

Whatever emotion you’re after, whatever vehicle you pursue—building a business, getting married, raising a family, traveling the world—whatever you think your nirvana is, there are six basic, universal needs that make us tick and drive all human behavior.

Combined, they are the force behind the crazy things (other) people do and the great things we do. We all have the same six needs, but how we value those needs and in what order, determines the direction of our life.

If you long to amplify your donor narratives beyond just a transactional relationship, it is imperative that you not only understand these six human needs, but that you also integrate the fulfillment of at least a few, if not all, of them in every donor communication if you hope to leverage and strengthen their affinity to your cause.

The following is a breakdown of the six needs that Tony Robbin’s has identified, and how potential considerations when it comes to your fundraising. [bonus tip: I keep a printout of this stickied to my monitor to reference whenever I am writing donor communications]

After this post you may also enjoy “Take 15 – Leverage The Universal Principles of Influence In Your Donor Communications”

1: The Need for Certainty/Comfort

The primary human need is the overwhelming need for certainty – to feel in control and know what’s coming next so that we can live our lives with a certain degree of security. Basic comfort, avoid stress and pain while achieving pleasurable states of consciousness. This is a survival need – affecting our risk tolerance in our relationships, jobs, etc. The higher a donor’s need for certainty, the more that you need to communicate the impact that their investments in your organization are creating. Fulfilling this need will allow you to optimize your communications with donors’ who primarily seek the rational, statistic-based aspects of investing in your programs. You can also leverage this need in your donor journey’s by making sure that your communications are self-referential and are always hinting to donors what they can expect next. The best type of fundraising is episodic and addressing their need for certainty/comfort will put you miles ahead of your competition.

2: The Need for Uncertainty/Variety

Everyone one loves surprises – even those people who say they hate surprises love the feeling of slight anxiety that they get when surprised. We love surprises that we want. Those that we don’t want we are quick to label as problems. You can leverage this need with your donors by showering them with unexpected rewards in various forms – from simple ways such as creating a tribe around a monthly-giving naming convention, to ensuring that you celebrate their loyalty with a handwritten thank you note on their birthday. Consider this as well.

3: The Need for Significance

This is the primary need that fundraiser spend an inordinate amount of time fulfilling while at the expense of others. Not to say that it isn’t one of the most important needs. Every single human being needs to be made to feel important, special, unique, needed, valued. Your donors can and may have achieved this through earning millions of dollars, raising a family, distinguishing themselves through a day of hard manual labour, or maybe just posting argumentatively on your organization’s Facebook page. Whether we like it or not, we are ingrained to seek status of various types that we deem important to ourselves, and fundraisers can tap into this need with stewardship serenades. Read one of the millions of blog posts about #donorlove [be careful of the bullshit] or buck the trend and actually pick up a phone and have a conversation with your donor without an ask. The possibilities are endless, we are all thirsting for significance intrinsically and extrinsically.

4: The Need for Love & Connection

Your donors need love and connection. So how do you fulfill that need? Love and connection is what makes us feel most alive. If we don’t have it, we settle.

[insert extremely personal story about the one that got away and how it relates to fundraising]


The first four needs that we’ve identified are what Tony calls the “needs of personality”.

We all find ways to meet these—whether by working harder, coming up with a big problem, or creating stories to rationalize them. The last two are the needs of the spirit. These are more rare—not everyone meets these. When these needs are met, we truly feel fulfilled.

5: The Need for Growth

You know this – either growing or dying. Your donors seek a certain level of self-transcendence through the joy of giving.

5: The Need for Contribution

What is the first thing that you do when you have exciting news? What is the essence of social media, though often misaligned? The need to tell somebody of our contribution.

Happiness is only real when shared.

Life is about creating meaning. Your donors are seeking greater meaning to their lives whether admitted or now. And whether aware of it or not, as us fundraisers know, meaning does not come from what you get – it comes from what you give. Ultimately it’s not what you get that will make you happy long term, but rather who you become and what you contribute will.

We NEED you to continue to cultivate the joy of giving.


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