HomeResourcesDan Peterson – University of Washington’s Donor Engagement Strategy: Near, Dear, Clear

Dan Peterson – University of Washington’s Donor Engagement Strategy: Near, Dear, Clear


Dan Peterson, Vice President for Development at the University of Washington has been a successful fundraising leader for over three decades. Over that time, he’s seen ups and downs with the economy, but the fundamentals of donor engagement haven’t changed. The University of Washington is about to close a 10-year, $5 Billion campaign that will greatly exceed its goal. And this year’s fundraising may also set a record. RNL’s Justin Marquart sat down with Dan to talk about how the University successfully engaged donors and the advice Dan has going forward.

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Dan Peterson’s suggestions for donor engagement in a challenging time:

  • Dan outlines the strategy (from Bob Sharpe) to be “near, dear and clear” with donors. This means continuing to reach out and maintaining communication, listening, showing empathy and strong appreciation for their involvement, while at the same time maintaining the message of your mission and how it aligns with the goals of the donor.
  • Provide grace and “maximum flexibility” to fundraising staff and donors as they adjust to new working environments and immediate personal needs.
  • Encourage creativity by the staff, and modify metrics when business as usual is disrupted.
  • A crisis may cause you to shift to immediate impact funds. For example, the University raised over $30M for the University of Washington COVID medical response. Donors stepped up to assist homelessness communities and student emergency funds.
  • Donors may narrow giving to fewer causes in a recession. But higher education has continued to remain a favored charitable entity. If you maintain engagement and the community values your institution, they will continue to support you.
  • Dan says: “our job is to meet donors in a way they feel comfortable” and “connect them to the mission of the University” The technology and approaches may change, but this fundamental focus remains the same.