Keeping Us in Our Place

Not all that long ago, I found myself going from the security of a steady and fairly substantial paycheck to the vagaries of my own consulting business. Since I had no clue how long it would take—if ever—for me to make a reasonable living from this venture, I really pared down my life. As the end of the year loomed and those end of the year appeals starting coming in, one of the things I took a long, hard look at was my annual giving to a number of organizations.

There were several places I had been supporting for a number of years. My donations were not high. They ranged from $50 to $250 annually. In all cases, while I still believed in the work the organization was doing, I frankly didn’t feel much a part of that work. A few sent newsletters, but by and large, the only time I heard from them—and consequently thought about them—was when they were asking me for money.

I made an executive decision, and simply did not respond to any of the organizations’ appeals. Most the organizations took absolutely no action. I next heard from them in the normal course of events—when they sent out their next appeal. One organization sent a follow up letter reminding me that I hadn’t sent in my annual donation. It was as personal as the appeal, which is to say that beyond having my name and address on it, there was no difference from a “Dear Donor” letter. Not one organization made a personal call or sent a personal letter trying to find out why I—a long time supporter—had stopped supporting them.

Perhaps these are all organizations with thousands of supporters and losing one or two or three hundred donors doesn’t matter to them. Or perhaps they just don’t get that loyal donors are also likely larger donors, if only you would approach them in a different way.

There’s lots of research pointing to the fact that donors come to resent organizations who only contact them when they are being asked for a donation. Certainly that feeling of resentment factored into my decision to not send a year end check.

Had anyone at any one of the organizations called to say, “Hi, we noticed that you didn’t give this past year and we just wanted to know why. Is there anything we can do to change your mind?” I probably would have written a check. A handwritten note from someone asking the same questions would have made me at least think about my decision.

The point is that organizations seem to spend a great deal of time and money keeping donors where they are. That, in itself, is leads to ineffectual fundraising. That they do little or nothing to woo back (and note that among the synonyms for woo are persuade, encourage, entice) donors who become disaffected or simply do not respond to a very impersonal way of fundraising shows a basic lack of understanding about what fundraising is and why people support your organization in the first place.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at