Stupid Stewardship Steps

This morning, as I was trying to think of something to blog about, I got the following email wipe-out(with names redacted):

The subject line was Information about your 2016 donation to (our organization)

The email itself went on to say:  Dear (organization) Supporter,
 Income tax season is here. Please let us know if you would like a summary of your 2016 calendar year giving by contacting me at or 555-555-5555. 
 Thank you for your continued support of the Organization.
Person Who Doesn’t Get It
Advancement Officer

I am sure that the impetus for this was to steward the organization’s donors.  That is a good idea.  But the execution is not so smart.

For starters, I am NOT a donor to this organization.  I was a vendor many years ago, but that has been my only connection.  That’s not the problem, the problem is that the Advancement Officer didn’t bother to pull a list of 2016 donors—something that is so easy to do—and sent me and probably many many others an email we didn’t need.

I know, I know.  I could just delete.  But email has become ubiquitous and daily I receive more than 100 emails.  It’s bad enough that there are many of those I don’t particularly want, but at least have the potential of being useful or interesting to me.  But to get emails I have no need of is truly annoying.  Too often it leads to a frenzy of deletes, which causes other problems.

But more than that, why is this Advancement Officer making more work for the donor?  Aren’t we supposed to be making things easier for them?
How about instead of this generic and unhelpful email, sending out something like this:
Dear (name):

Thank you so much for the contribution(s) you made to our organization in 2016.  Your support has been instrumental in helping us push our mission forward.  (Note, instead of that very generic sentence, you might want to actually connect the dots and tell donors what they helped to accomplish).   Attached (or, The following) is a summary of your 2016 calendar year giving to our organization.  We hope this helps you as you work on your income taxes!  If you have any questions or need more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at (contact information).

Your past support has meant so much to our organization (and our clients).  We are so pleased that you are part of our organization family.


Your Name

On the receipt, make sure you put the necessary substantiation or quid pro quo statements.  And, of course, make sure that you sending this out to donors and thinking about how to engage those people who didn’t give in 2016 so that they become donors this year.

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How NOT to Engage Your Donors

My daughter is 41 years old.  In 7th and 8th grade she went to a private school that turned out to be the only school in her educational career that she enjoyed.  After she moved on to high school, I received annual letters for 2 years—both addressed to “Dear Alumni Family” which, as I am sure you will concur, certainly warmed the cockles of my heart.  I honestly don’t remember what the letters said, but they were not about my child or why the school should still matter to me.  For the next 28 years, I heard nothing at all from the school.

Yesterday, I received the following letter.   I have redacted names, addresses, anything that could identify the school—though truthfully, I shouldn’t.  They don’t deserve the courtesy.



Do I even have to explicate all the things wrong with this letter?  It is a classic case of how NOT to engage your donors.  It also showed a clear disinterest in who I am or why I would even want to be involved with this organization.

I am, I confess, most annoyed at the laziness of the author.  If I haven’t been engaged in 28 years, something more than this form letter is clearly required.  How about starting with using my name, and maybe showing me a picture of my daughter, her class, the school when she went there?

There are so many good ways to reach out to those who used to be involved with your organization.  This letter shows you how NOT to do that.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to move from mired to inspired.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free 30-minute consultation.



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Involve and Engage Your Supporters

If there is one immutable fact about fundraising it is that the more you involve your prospects and donors, the more likely it is that prospects will become donors and donors will continue to support your organization and cause.

Given that most of our donors are making small gifts and it is impossible to meet with each of them individually, the million-dollar question is how do you do that effectively?

My Circle of Friends

My Circle of Friends

Whether you agree with or would support NARAL, they do an extraordinary job of turning their donors into advocates and, as advocates, feeling that they are part of the organization.

Most weeks, they send out informative (and short!) emails, about things that matter to them and, by extension, most likely to their donors.  These emails tell you what happened and why it matters.  And, most importantly, what you can do to spread the word, take action, keep moving actions forward.  Nothing they suggest is hard to do (sometimes it is simply clicking a button), but it makes the recipient feel part of something larger and of turning their financial support into action.  Which—no surprise here—makes it feel more imperative to continue supporting the organization.

How do you take a lesson from this?  Easy if you are an advocacy group.  And I would argue that we all are in some way.  We advocate for :

  • Our clients
  • Our cause
  • Our beliefs
  • Our values

As you go about gathering up stories of the impact your organization has had, think about ways you can help your supporters to share those stories, to push for more support, to join hands with others who care about the work you do.

NARAL knows that its supporters share a set of values and these go beyond the specific thing you most represent.  So reproductive rights are critical to NARAL supporters, but so is equality—the notion that every person has parity with every other person.  Not everything that NARAL pushes is only focused on a women’s right to reproductive choice.

So it should be with you. One of my clients—a k-5 school, shared with their community of supporters the values they were teaching their students.  They provided a link and asked them to send in stories of the ways they were living those values.  By sharing, others learned how they could incorporate the values into the fabric of their lives.

What does that have to do with fundraising?  Nothing and everything.

By involving your supporters in the things you do and what you stand for, you create community.  As that community draws closer, your organization becomes more important.

And the more important you are to your supporters, the more they will ensure you have the resources and funds you need to continue doing the work they know is so important.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to increase their fundraising capacity and move them from mired to inspired.  Learn about Janet at  While there, sign up for her newsletter and contact her for a free, 30-minute consultation

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Five Reasons Your Fundraising Is Failing

  1. You never ask!  This, above all, is the single most important reason fundraising  As my father always told me:  If you don’t ask, you don’t get.  But do make sure that you are asking appropriately.  Which leads us to the second failure point
  2. You don’t cultivate. Synonyms for cultivate include nurture, develop, encourage, enrich.  Are you doing any of that for your prospects?  If you are like most nonprofits the answer is not really.  We meet, maybe we greet, then we send something out in a letter, an email, on social media asking for a gift.
  3. You don’t do any research. So you don’t know what this person cares about, supports, could give. And you certainly don’t know—nor, apparently, do you care—how he or she most wants to receive information.
  4. You’re unclear. About what you want and how you describe why supporting you matters.  You have no decent messaging.  And what you do have is so generic, no one relates to it
  5. You have no plan. Above all, this is why you fail.  If you do not have a strategy, a  blueprint for action….you are stuck on start, and that is not the place where fundraising happens.



Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to increase their fundraising capacity and move them from mired to inspired.  Learn about Janet at  While there, sign up for her newsletter and contact her for a free, 30-minute consultation.  But only do that if you want to  stop failing

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Make It As Easy to Stop a Monthly Gift as It Should Be to Start One

Monthly giving is becoming more and more popular for a whole lot of reasons:

  • Donors can easily give larger amounts over a longer period than they might be able to simple-shouldnt-be-hard-if-you-justin one fell swoop
  • Monthly gifts help to level revenue streams, something that is particularly important for smaller nonprofits
  • Renewals are pretty much automatic; indeed, in most cases, donors must do something to stop the giving rather than doing something to continue it.

And therein can lie the rub.

From time to time a donor may want or need to put a stop to a monthly gift.  But doing so is often really hard.  And while that might seem like a smart strategy—why make it easy to stop supporting our organization?—you may very well be shooting yourself in the foot.

There are all sorts of reasons people want to stop their gift:

  • They lost their job
  • Expenses have suddenly increased
  • They are unhappy with you
  • They are not feeling any joy in supporting you

While you can’t do much about the first two, the second two should give you a lot of food for thought.  What is it that makes them unhappy?  What can you do to reignite their joy?

If stopping my gift starts becoming an exercise in futility—if I am having a hard time figuring out how to stop the automatic giving—my annoyance will turn to irritation, my irritation to anger, and my quiet steaming to loud and often accusations against your organizations.

As everyone should know, when things go well we tend to tell 3-5 people about the experience.  But when something goes wrong, we tell the world.  And you want to world to hear good things about you.

So on your Donate page, provide information on how to stop a monthly gift. Make it as easy as giving the gift.  And when someone clicks on that particular button, make sure you have a mechanism to reach out—personally!—to them and find out if there is anything you could do to change their mind.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and go from mired to inspired.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.

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