It’s a punch in the gut. It makes your heart stop. You start to feel anxious. You know the feeling. It’s the one you get when you discover that your good donor is decreasing their giving. And you immediately begin to look for the reason.

It’s funny how this all works. The first thought is usually: “What have I/we done to cause this?” And there may be something there. But rather than start there, here’s what we suggest you should do:

  1. Gather all the information – You need to have context. Print out the giving history of the donor. Find out what has been sent to them over the last 24 months. See if you can discern what they responded to, if it isn’t obvious. Read all the notes you or someone else has kept. Talk to others inside your organization to find out if anyone else knows the donor and has information. In this step you’re getting context. All of it. Do this step quickly. Don’t let weeks go by from when you found out the donor was decreasing her giving and when you contact her. Speed is important on this step.
  2. Book a meeting with the donor. Either a safe distance meeting that the donor feels comfortable with, or a video conference, if the donor is able to do it. You want to be able to see the donor and have them see you. If it only works for them on the phone, that’s fine.
  3. Start the meeting with gratitude and feedback. It’s important that the donor know you’re thankful for what she’s done. Tell her that. And be specific. Something like: “Over the last two years you’ve given $56,000. And your giving has made a tremendous difference.” Then get into specifics of what a difference the donor’s giving has made. Something like: “Let me tell you what you’ve done…” Then go through it all, making sure you tell stories of transformation, restoration, healing, etc. The stories need to evoke emotion.
  4. Now, ask the question. Here’s where you are kind and confidently curious. You say: “NAME, I do have one question and would sure appreciate your input and feedback. I notice that your giving has decreased – or, you’ve decided to decrease your giving – and I wanted to know the reason for that decrease/decision. Is it something personal, like a change in priorities, a business or revenue downturn, or a personal crisis – or have we done something wrong that’s caused you to decrease your giving? And please know that I’m not upset or feeling defensive about this. I’d just like to know if there’s something we can do.” Then be quiet and calm so you can receive the response.

    As the donor is responding, stay calm (no matter what) and be positive and kind in your heart so that your body language and your attitude is one of graciousness and care. Remember, this good relationship you have with this donor is NOT about the money. You need to project this truth in your words and vibe. As the donor responds, be curious and ask more questions so you can fully understand what she’s saying.

  5. Then, deal with the answer. If the answer is a personal reason, empathize with the donor and tell her that you support her decision. Also, wonder out loud with the donor about what the future holds in your relationship. It may sound like this: “I understand, NAME, and I’m sorry you’re going through [the situation]. Is there anything we can do to help and support you?” [Pause to listen and make a note of the response. Make support commitments that you and the organization can keep]. Then say: “So that I can be sure and be sensitive and appropriate in your journey in this situation, when do you think you will be through this?” [Pause to listen and take note of response]. And this is where you leave it, when a personal situation is involved.

    If the answer is that you or the organization has done something wrong, express remorse and sadness that you’ve offended the donor. Also, find out what the offense is, then make a commitment to straighten it out. You might also ask the donor what she thinks the remedy is. Don’t try to solve the problem in this meeting or make statements about what you think should happen. Go away and consult with others in the organization about what you should do; then get back to the donor with the remedy.

A decrease in giving is hard to hear about. It’s usually not handled properly because the MGO fears the conflict and therefore doesn’t take the right action. Follow our suggestions here and it will go much better for you.

And remember this: a change in behavior in the donor is a chance for you to (a) truly care and serve the donor, and (b) to correct offensive or disturbing behavior. That is all good. Please look at it that way.