stuck in a rut
Are your donors in a giving rut – giving the same amount year after year? I’ve probably reviewed well over 100 organizations’ donor files in the last several years, and I can tell you that most non-profits have major donors who are in giving ruts.
Granted, I’d rather have a donor giving in a rut than not giving at all, but when I see this kind of giving behavior, I know something is not quite right.
The problem Richard and I encounter with organizations that have these types of donors is that they blame the donor for being in the rut. That’s easy to do. I hear this: “Well, she really doesn’t want to give more. She likes sending her $5,000 check every December. I visit her every November to see how she is doing, and that seems to keep her happy.”
Or I hear this: “Well, I don’t ever ask him for a gift. I send thank you cards, bring him a little gift in November after Thanksgiving and call to check in, but he likes to give his $10,000 annual gift from one of the December appeals we send out.”
I could write pages and pages of stories MGOs have told me about why their donors give the amounts they do each year. For whatever reason, these MGOs have made up some kind of story about each of their donors, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So how do you get a donor out of her giving rut?

  1. Donors have life. You first need to believe deeply that donors actually want to give, and give again. Donors want to help your organization more than once, and they want to help more than their current giving level would show… but you have to ask them. You have to get that little voice out of your head that is telling you not to ask.
  2. Show the vision. One reason donors will give the same amount every year is because no one is showing them the “big vision” of your organization. When was the last time you sat down with your donors and told them where the organization was going to be in 3-5 years? Donors need to be inspired. Donors are thinking, “How does my gift fit into the bigger picture of the mission?”
  3. Match them to fundable projects. Most of the time when I hear of donors giving the same amount every year, it’s because no one has sat down with the donor and matched her passions and interests with the great programs and projects you have. So what ends up happening is that the donor self-directs her giving by what she thinks you probably need. Ugh! This is so backwards, but this is also too common in major gifts. Your job is to find those projects and programs, and because you know the donor so well, you can take a few of them and sit across a table, look the donor in the eye and challenge that donor to make an impact with a specific ask.
  4. Have meaningful connections with your donors. If you want a real investment from a donor, you can’t expect that to happen without a meaningful connection. You can send all the mail or e-mail you want, and you can talk on the phone and even visit. But things will not happen if there is not a meaningful connection. The really meaningful connections happen when you look donors in the eye – that’s when you can really get them out of the giving rut. Donors want to be inspired, and they have to see your passion in order for that to happen.

Here are a couple of quick stories to inspire you to get your donors out of the giving rut they are in:
One MGO who was new to her organization looked at her portfolio of donors and saw this giving pattern I was just describing. Of her 150 donors, she had around 50 that gave the same amount every year. She decided that she was going to 1) get to know these people, then 2) find something they would love to invest in, and 3) go out, be bold and ask. Of the 50 donors, 45 of them gave a substantially higher gift that year.
Another MGO had 22 donors in his portfolio that gave the same amounts year after year. The previous MGO had never asked the donors for a gift, but relied on direct-mail to spur the gift from the donor. This MGO made it his mission to sit down with each of the 22 donors face-to-face and ask for a specific gift. 20 of the 22 donors said YES!
I’m telling you, donors want to give more. It’s not their fault that they are not giving you more. They just want to be inspired and asked. Don’t let that nasty little voice in your head trick you into thinking otherwise.
Their giving rut is your opportunity. Do something about it.