“Why are fundraisers still doing this?!” This is something that Richard and I regularly say to one another as we hear of another example of the inconceivable things that non-profits do that hurt their relationships with donors.

Now, of course these are not intentional. Usually people have the best of intentions. But it’s amazing how non-profits forget the role a donor plays in carrying out the mission. And when we treat donors as a means to an end, instead of seeing them as partners in our mission, it’s going to show up in their giving.

Here’s 21 things that non-profits do that are hurting their donor relationships:

  1. When you send an appeal out to your donor, you address it as “Dear Donor” or worse yet, get their name wrong.
  2. You ask for a gift, the donor gives you a gift, then you take a month or more to thank them.
  3. The donor gives you a gift, you thank them (finally), but you never report back the impact that gift made.
  4. You see that your donor retention rate is about 40% overall and you decide, “Well that’s just the standard in our business,” and don’t address it.
  5. You analyze your donor file and find out your value attrition rates year over year are between 40-60%, so you double down on new donor acquisition.
  6. You invest heavily in new donor acquisition, but you have no mid, major, or planned giving program to help the donor invest at higher levels to fund your programs.
  7. You allow your major gift officers to have hundreds of unqualified donors in their portfolios, hoping that the larger the portfolio, the greater chance of getting that $1MM dollar gift.
  8. You don’t have an internal system that helps the organization know how the real cost of their projects and programs (including overhead).
  9. You instruct major gift officers to just ask donors to give generally, for operations.
  10. You leave out the emotion of fundraising and only report on facts and figures, with no stories of how you are changing the world.
  11. You are not transparent.
  12. You don’t figure out how your donors want to be communicated with, so you do want you want to do.
  13. If a donor gives you a large gift to fund a project and the project doesn’t go as planned, instead of communicating that to the donor, you hide the problem.
  14. You don’t have a planned giving program because it’s “too much trouble” right now.
  15. Your KPIs for your frontline fundraiser focus on face-to-face meetings and the number of phone calls and emails they send out to donors.
  16. You have a donor who gives $5,000 every year, but you never challenge that donor to give more because you’re afraid they will get upset and not give you the $5,000 gift.
  17. You have a donor database that doesn’t allow you to create an individual revenue goal or a strategic plan for every donor in your portfolio.
  18. You spend as much time with a $1,000 a year donor as you do a $100,000 a year donor.
  19. The CEO refuses to ask donors for a gift.
  20. The only time you interact with donors is at an event.
  21. You don’t allow program folks to interact with donors.

I’m going to leave this list at 21. I could go on and on, but if your non-profit worked on these 21, you’d be in a much better, donor-centered place as an organization.

Donors are not a means to an end.

They are the lifeblood of helping you carry out your mission. Treat them as such.