Second in a three-part series: “Why Your Donors Aren’t Giving More”

It’s always interesting to see how people react when Jeff and I assert that the annual fund, giving societies, and membership programs suppress giving.

“How can that be?” someone will ask. And the answer is summed up in the following points.

  1. These types of programs set a giving level that the donor needs to reach to “belong” to the group. “You gave $1000 to the annual fund last year; please give it again this year.” Or “In order to be part of the X giving society, you will need to give $5,000 annually.”  Or “Your gift of $100 a month provides you will the following benefits…” It’s like an informal contract saying that if the donor does this, then they get that. Now, I know it’s not that crass in reality, but I want you to see that this is what is happening when we do these kinds of deals and arrangements. We set an expectation. And that leads to my next point…
  2. An expectation is set that the amount the donor has agreed to give, during a specific time period or portion of a year, is all that the organization needs from them during the calendar year. This expectation is not formally set or verbally stated. It just sits there in the psyche of the donor. If the donor was to verbalize their understanding of the “arrangement” with you, it might sound like this: “OK, so I have agreed to do what you have asked me to do. That is all I need to do.” And there it sits.
  3. The net result of this dynamic is the donor does not give more nor are they asked to give more. And this is the suppression point of this blog. A high-capacity, high-inclination donor who could give far more does not do so. Instead, they give their $10,000 a year, or their $200 a month, or whatever amount you have agreed that they would give during a specific time, and that’s it. They pass the rest of their charitable giving to other non-profits. Jeff and I have seen this happen over and over again.

    Let me share an example with you. One organization has a giving society with a giving level of $5,000. A donor has loyally given his $5,000 for the last 10 years. This same donor has also given other non-profits $7.5 million in those same 10 years. And this is not because the donor offers of those other non-profits were more interesting or a greater match to the donor’s interests and passions. No, it’s because the donor seriously thought that all that was needed was that $5,000 annual giving society gift.

It’s a fact that there are many donors on your active donor list, in your membership roster, among your annual fund givers or your giving societies who could give so much more if you simply asked them to do so. You just aren’t presenting them with a compelling donor offer that matches their passions and interests at a level of giving that is, if not transformational, then substantially greater than their current annual giving.

But most organizations don’t think that way. The membership list is sacred. “You cannot ask them for more.” The same is true for the ticket buyers. “That is all they want to do.” It’s also true for those giving society members. “They have agreed to give X per year. That’s all we should ask them to do.” The list of examples goes on…

This is tragic because this kind of thinking is so transactional. It’s all about the money. It’s a contract. A deal. An arrangement. It’s not about helping the donor do the important work that they want to do.

If you’re trapped in this kind of thinking, it’s likely a major reason your donors are not giving more. You have sequestered them in the “membership, annual fund, giving society” space. And while they are in that space, they will not give more, nor will you ask them to do so.

Move away from this thinking and start helping your donors do the good they want to do on the planet. It will be good for them and for you.


Why Your Donors Aren’t Giving More Series:

  1. Your Donor Needs to Know Their Gift Is Making a Difference
  2. Membership Programs, Of Any Kind, Suppress Giving (This Post)