Moving Donors Up

He was jazzed. The hospital he supported with small, annual gifts had invited him to take a private tour, and during that tour, he got to meet and talk with some of the research doctors. The lab excited him; the work even more so. And now he was thinking about how he would make a larger, more meaningful gift. It doesn't take much to make a donor feel more connected--a tour, a personal note, something that tells him (or her) what his gift has meant. A "touch" where you ask for nothing but give back much.

What you give back is confirmation that the gift matters, that the donor is valued, and that you want to continue and deepen the relationship.That that could increase giving is a wonderful by-product and testament to the notion that philanthropic people are givers--over and over again.

The one thing that surprised my friend was that the hospital singled him out, even though his gifts were small. I was also surprised, but pleasantly--too often nonprofits pay attention only to those who have already made a large gift. This organization, however, recognized that a loyal donor--one who regularly makes gift, albeit small ones, is worth the effort.

Loyal donors are too rare in our world. And they are rare precisely because too often we don't bother to reach out and thank them in specific ways for their support. Instead, all of our outreach is focused on getting a new gift.

It gets old, always being asked to give more, especially if you are not sure that what you've already given is valued or has been used wisely. This is not to say that you shouldn't be showing prospects and donors additional opportunities for their support, just that the focus of the call, meeting, letter should be more on engaging them more fully with what you do than with what you want them to do. We all know Albert Einstein's famous definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome). If you have a donor who makes small gifts as a result of a direct mail appeal and you only connect with that donor via direct mail appeals, don't be surprised is the gifts you get remain small. And be even less surprised if those small gifts disappear over time.

Take a lesson from my friend's hospital--offer a different opportunity to those donors who have supported you regularly over a number of years (maybe 3, maybe 5) and see if you don't end up with a very different gift than this donor has been making.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build more committed boards.  Learn how she can help your organization at or email her at