Don't Let Technology Be Your Fundraiser

Technology.  I love it.  I hate it.  It’s made keeping in touch so much easier.  It’s made being meaningful about those touches so much more difficult.  That’s a minor problem when you are talking about your personal network.  It’s a major one for most nonprofits. More and more nonprofits are turning to technology for fundraising.  The good of that is costs are lowered and it is easier to reach out.  The bad is without carefully considering what you hope to accomplish you end up bombarding potential supporters until they check out, opt out, or simply click delete whenever your organization’s name pops up in their inbox or on social media.

The other bad is very bad indeed.  Too many organizations are relying on automatic thank you replies to those who donate online.  That’s not the bad.  The bad is two-fold:

1.  When that automatic thank you becomes the only correspondence between the organization and the donor

2.  When in that correspondence, the message is “thank you for your gift. Donate now.”

Maybe many of the organizations I donate to are particularly tone-deaf and don’t get that creating a relationship takes more than an automatic email and that a follow-on gift shouldn’t be asked for before you show the donor how his or her gift made an impact.  However, I do know that I am not alone in bemoaning these truly awful behaviors.

The other problem with technology as your fund development staff is that it means that all your fundraising is transactional.  Writing “Dear [insert a name]” does not make a letter or an email personal.  Relational fundraising comes from conversations in real time where you can keep asking the other person to “tell me more.”

Drilling down (in a nice way) is the only way to learn about a donor’s hopes and dreams, to understand values.  And only when you do understand these can you begin the conversation about a really large gift.

Really large gifts are important for a lot of reasons.  Not the least of which is that fundraising is no different from any other endeavor.  That means that 80% of what you get comes from 20% of the givers.  So even if your largest ever gift is $500, do the math and you will most likely find that 80% of the gifts you receive come from 20% of your donors.  Go out and cultivate, then solicit donors who can give larger gifts.  The amount you raise will increase—and you will still find that 80% of what you get comes from 20% of the givers.  In most cases.

Technology can be a boon to small development offices, making transactional fundraising easier.  But to make fundraising better, these small offices must carve out time to reach out more personally to at least your likely larger donors (those who have been loyal; those two may have once given a larger gift; those whose wealth indicators are high) and move them from transactional to truly being invested in your organization.  Once they are, their investment in you will increase.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to increase their fundraising capacity and build stronger, more fundraising savvy boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter, check out our new one-hour board trainings, and do schedule your free 30-minute consultation.