“How can something so good and so effective actually suppress giving?” the development director asked. “I mean, everyone knows that these things work!”

That was the reaction of a seasoned fundraising professional to my comments that five commonly used fundraising strategies actually suppress giving. Here they are:

1. The Annual Fund

This is a commonly-used approach to fundraising in health and education non-profits where donors are asked to “give their annual gift.” And most of the donors do just that. They give their annual gift. And that’s all they give. The rest of their charitable giving goes to the other 4 to 7 non-profits they’re interested in.

The annual fund is the scourge of fundraising. It’s a deeply flawed strategy. Jeff and I have repeatedly urged fundraising leaders and managers to get rid of it so that donors can be encouraged to give to those programs and projects that interest them as frequently as they want to. Most donors have more than one annual gift in them per year. In fact, the average donor gives 2-4 times a year. Ask them to give once, as the annual fund does, and you suppress their giving to your organization.

2. Pledges

A pledge is an important fundraising strategy for all non-profits. It provides regular revenue, motivates the donor into the habit of regular giving, and provides a basis for upgrading and retention. Where it goes wrong is when the informal and unwritten “contract” with the donor, related to the pledge, is oriented only to the pledge. In other words, “give X a month.” And that suppresses giving.

Here’s why. Many donors, when they’re presented with a giving opportunity that matches their interests and passions, are told that “all they need to do is give X a month” – so they do just that. They give once a month, or whatever the agreed-upon frequency is, and they don’t participate any further than that.

Many donors who are enrolled in a pledge will give more IF the “contract” they signed up for set the expectation that “from time to time we will present you with additional opportunities that match your passions and interests.” Setting this expectation allows for you to talk to the donor about doing more for the program or project they’re really interested in. By not setting up your pledge programs this way, you’re effectively suppressing giving with a number of your donors.

3. Membership Programs

Much like a pledge, membership programs suppress giving when the expectation with the donor is essentially set up as “become a member and that’s all that needs to be done.”

4. Giving Clubs/Societies

Giving clubs and societies all have an “entrance fee” or amount required to belong. It could be $5,000 a year or $10,000 or more. The President’s Circle may be $50,000 a year or $100,000. All of these are impressive amounts. But they cut off the opportunity to engage the donor in additional giving in areas that interest them.

5. Campaigns of All Types

And then there are campaigns. We have seen so many campaigns that are characterized as “widely successful” where donors give impressive one-time gifts and that’s the end of the story. The one-time gift comes in and no effort is made either on the front-end solicitation or on the back end to frame the relationship with the donor as an ongoing one vs. a one-time event. Giving is suppressed.

In all of these situations, the donor gives less than they could. The frontline fundraiser fails to frame the relationship as an ongoing relationship, one where the focus is on what needs to be done month after month in the area the donor is interested in. As a result, the conversations and actions zero in on the one-time transaction or the regular transaction. Ultimately, any focus on the ongoing needs of the organization to address the societal need the donor is interested in gets lost.

Remember this: a donor has specific interests and passions. They are more concerned with getting something done than they are with watching the frequency of giving. Give them a reason to get something done, that they want to get done, and they’ll give more frequently.


This post originally appeared on the Passionate Giving Blog on May 28, 2021.