Nurture Donors, Don't Chase Dollars

I’m on a mission. To move fundraising from the mindset of chasing dollars to that of nurturing donors. And I think it will take more than simply saying “Donor-centered fundraising.” To me it starts with the way we define fundraising activities. I am adamant that clients Untitlednever, ever talk about “hitting on” a prospect, or try to develop a way to pitch to them. I want my clients to think about the partnership and relationships between the organization and those who help ensure that the mission actually moves forward. And I want us to rethink what we mean when we talk about annual and major gifts.

Annual are those gifts that donors make year after year after year to sustain the organization. They come out of the donors’ current assets and so are of a size that is possible for them to give every year. That may be a small gift; but affluent people may be giving annual gifts that are pretty significant.

Major gifts, on the other hand, are one-time gifts given for a particular purpose.

I think it was Tony Poderis who defined a major gift as any gift that had the ability to transform the organization. I like to call these thoughtful gifts because both the organization and the donor need to think about these gifts carefully.

The donor because we are asking for a larger than annual gift and he or she has to think about how to make that gift. And the organization has to consider what they need that will transform them and how much they need from this particular donor to make the gift, oh I hate to use the word worthwhile, but there it is.

Another way to look at these types of gifts is that annual gifts allow you to continue doing what you do and, perhaps, to grow what you do. For example, if you can build your annual fund, you might be able to service 10% more people than you do today. Major gifts, on the other hand, allow you to start or build something new.

These are important distinctions. Annual gifts are those you rely on. When you ask a loyal annual donor for a major gift, you must be very clear that you are not asking that donor to move his or her annual gift to a different purpose but, rather, you are asking for an additional gift.

If, on the other hand, you get a gift for a specific purpose from someone who is not an annual donor, you will want to consider how to ask for that “and”—and ongoing—sustaining support.

You do all of these things by involving your donors in the work you do. You don’t just thank them for their support, you show them how their support has made a difference. More than that, you connect to the work you do and to those who, like them, have made your organization a priority. Showcase your donors, large and small, and honor them for all they do.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to maximize their fundraising results, build stronger boards, and value their donors. Learn how she can help you at