I don’t know about you, but I love watching Reels or TikTok videos of the drain cleaners. You know what I’m talking about? There are tons of videos of clogged drains and you watch people methodically chip away at the clog until whoosh, the drain is unclogged and the water flows freely and the world is saved. Okay, maybe that’s too dramatic, but it’s soooo satisfying to watch.

I’ve been reviewing a bunch of donor assessments that we do for free here at Veritus. One of the areas we review is the donor pipeline. We look at what donors give cumulatively and group them by giving levels like $1-24.00, $25-$99, etc., all the way up to $1MM plus.

Invariably, there is a clog. And it’s a big clog. What I mean by a clog is a bunch of donors sitting at one level of giving. Many of these donors are very loyal and have a ton more capacity, but they never move because they’re stuck. This typically happens in the mid-level range, usually from $500-$4,999.

Now, why are they stuck?

This is what most non-profits don’t think about. They don’t spend the time 1) even acknowledging there is a problem, or 2) figuring out a strategy to unclog the donor pipeline. What they do instead is continue spending good money acquiring donors, cultivating them through direct-response strategies and tactics, and being content with the trickle that eventually comes up to major and planned gifts.

And no one is trying to unclog the drain and allow a freer flow of donors to give at the level THEY are capable of!

Instead, they do this: They create departments out of strategy and put a wall around that department, like membership or sustainers or a giving club. They have a poorly designed structure within the development department, and they have some PR/Marketing person as the director of development. They don’t have a mid-level program. They don’t ask enough. They don’t have compelling offers with higher gift asks. And they don’t invest in each stage of the donor pipeline properly.

So what happens? A clog develops in the pipeline.

Going back to those TikTok videos I like. The best ones are when someone comes to unclog a drain that has been clogged for years. The person working on unclogging the drain begins pulling out this massive amount of garbage, weeds, tree roots, etc., that have built up over years. And then, after what seems like an eternity, the clog is removed and this massive gush of water flows out. It’s amazing to watch!

This is what you need to do with your donor pipeline that is clogged. First, acknowledge the clog. Find it. Then, methodically look at why you have it and address it.

I love when we start a new mid-level program for a client. Why? Because we immediately start chipping away at that clog. And we see very early on a new flow of donors moving into major gifts. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to watch and hear the stories from donors who say something like, “In over 15 years that I’ve been giving, no one has ever reached out to me personally. Thank you for calling.” And, then you see their giving escalate. We see this over and over again.

Now that you’re ready to take a look at your donor pipeline and find the clogs, are you prepared for what you’re going to do about it?


PS – If you’d like help identifying your clogs and understanding the health of your donor pipeline, I encourage you to get started with our free donor file assessment!