It’s done all the time in business.
And wise people will always ask “why” if something has gone wrong in a relationship.
That’s why I was intrigued with Isa Catto’s article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy from last August, putting forth the idea that when a donor stops giving, you should ask for an “exit interview.”
Jeff and I spend a lot of time counseling MGOs on why it’s important to know the passions and interests of caseload donors – because the passions and interests drive the donor’s giving.
Just as important is to know why the donor stops giving, or starts giving less. Have circumstances changed – loss of a job, health, divorce, etc.? Or have you done something wrong that’s turned the donor’s loyalty and relationship away from you?
It’s important to know – not only to express genuine sadness and missing to the donor who’s now gone away – but also to understand what it is about your behavior, or the behavior of your organization, that has caused the decision.
But how do you do it? Isa suggests four steps as follows:

  1. Write and thank the donor for his or her support, and ask if they would be willing to do a brief interview by phone or email. Objective: to secure constructive feedback. Isa warns that you should not ask for money on this call.
  2. When you engage, keep your questions brief, and ask for specific information on how you can do things better.
  3. Listen, and don’t be defensive. Hard to do, I know. But the key is to gain information – not defend or repackage what caused the decision.
  4. Follow up with a brief thank you. Gratitude and graciousness, with no hidden agenda, is the best approach.

This idea of the exit interview is powerful. We suggest you do it with every caseload donor who has stopped giving or is giving less. (Tweet it!)
Remember, your goal is to be better because of the information the donor gives you, NOT to persuade them to start giving again. If you have that clear donor-oriented objective in your head and in your heart, your tone and spirit will be open and compassionate. The donor will sense it – and that will be good.
It’s always good to seek and receive the wisdom and counsel of others. And donors who have made decisions not to give any more, or to give less, can give you a lot of that wisdom. Seek and pursue it. It will be good for you.