Game of Thrones is back on for its sixth season, much to the delight of fans of a show that has garnered the most illegal downloads in television history.

For a show that tells the story of a fantasy world where dragons and ice-zombies and baby-spirit-murderers run rampant, it still does a pretty great job of threading key philosophical observations and life lessons (thanks George R.R. Martin) about humanity.

And who are donors? Humans! So, as a committed GoT and nonprofit nerd, I thought it would be a fun exercise to apply these observations to the work that we do in donor communications.

Oh, and here’s your spoiler alert. But seriously, how are you not caught up yet? Here are…

4 Things Game of Thrones Can Teach You About Donor Communications

1. Any man who must say, “I am the king,” is no true king

You can tell your donors that you are the best cat-rescue organization in eastern Ontario as many times as you want, but it doesn’t mean it’s true. Of course, any organization is going to try and position themselves as being the best at what they do – but if you really are the best cat-rescue organization in eastern Ontario your donors and other stakeholders will say it for you.

Use donors, volunteers, board members and beneficiaries’ testimonials that show the impact of your work. Ask donors why they chose you and why they continue to choose you and feature it in your communications materials. Having a leader in your community advocate for your organization is far more powerful than you talking about how great you are.

Listen to Tywin – if your organization is truly the ‘king or queen’ of your realm, mobilize your donors and they’ll spread the word of your positive reputation for you.

2. You can say almost anything in one single word

Hodor. Hodor? Hodor!


For those who haven’t seen the show, Hodor is a particularly tall gentleman rumoured to be part-giant who only has one word in his vocabulary: Hodor. But he is a master of inflection and communicates seamlessly with others using just that one word.

Our sector has a tendency to talk. And talk and talk and talk. It’s usually well intentioned – and it’s because we’re often working on complex issues like poverty or climate change or homelessness in downtown centres and we feel we need to explain.

Our solutions to complex problems may need to be complex. But the way we communicate to donors about them doesn’t. This means cutting out industry jargon and – even harder – being aware of when we’re using it.

We live in a world where donors receive information at a lightning-rod rate and if you don’t hit them at the right second with 140 characters or less you’ll lose them. That might be an exaggeration, but it also might not.

Know your audience – if you’re not writing to a donor who requires high-level technical information, call upon your inner Hodor.

3. Raise loyal supporters by being different

Game of Thrones is about just that – a game of self-identified monarchs who all want the crown. But there is one silver-haired character with a claim to the Iron Throne who has managed to raise a massive army of supporters by being different.

For one, she’s a young woman fighting for the throne against mostly other men. She also owns dragons, comes from a historically powerful family and can’t be burned by fire. Now with a large army and a growing base of supporters, she has a real chance to win the throne.

So, why does any of this matter to your donors? Without a unique brand and without feeling different, your donors have no reason to choose you over the next organization that might have a similar goal. There are a lot of really great organizations who probably work towards achieving goals like yours – why should someone choose yours to support?

Understanding what makes your organization different, building your strategy around it and driving your communications to support it is essential if you want to build a strong base of supporters.

4. Winter is coming

My favourite family in Game of Thrones are the Starks – they kind of remind me of Canadians because they live in the north and talk way too much about the weather.

Their family slogan is “Winter is Coming” which essentially warns of bad things to come (like ice zombies) and they are therefore always bracing themselves to respond to a rapidly changing environment. I credit this mentality with the reason why Starks have managed to survive in the north for so long.

In the nonprofit world, we never know when our hypothetical “winter” is coming. Large-scale disasters can divert fundraising initiatives away from your cause, industries can crash and cause a long-term donor to no longer be in a position to give, and internal organizational decisions can change your fundraising and communications strategies all in one afternoon.

Organizations – just like the Starks – need to be nimble and bold enough to change plans, go in a different direction,and meet donors’ needs when their environment changes. That might mean canceling that proposal that was ready to go out in the mail, restructuring timelines, or getting creative with your upcoming fundraising campaign to overcome the challenges your organization will face.

Any crises can become an opportunity for your organization as long as you respond quickly and adapt to your new environment. Just be thankful our sector’s disruptions don’t look like this:

So the next time your boss gets mad at you for coming into work tired because you stayed up late streaming Game of Thrones on Sunday night, tell her you were actually just strategizing for your work week.