ALL Your Donors Are Important


I think I am a classic case of how not to cultivate a donor.  Aside from regular mail solicitations, only once did I receive a phone thank you from (the organization). It’s such a little thing, but I was so impressed that one year I made thank you phone calls for (an organization where she was chair of the development committee) Annual fund and the following year we did the best ever.  I guess unless you give thousand and thousands, development people write you off not knowing where you might go.

What you need to know about the writer of this email is that she is very philanthropic and gives to many organizations.  However, she always starts out small.  And all too often she ends up–as do more than 50% of all first time donors to nonprofit organizations—not being a repeat donor.

And oh, one other thing about this person—she is quite wealthy and when an organization engages her and treats her well, they, in turn, get treated very well by her.

Okay, I understand.  You have thousands and thousands of small, annual donors who you reach by mass media, and you can’t reach out and touch each and every one of them.  Or you just wish you had thousands and thousands but even so, you are a small office and can’t possibly treat each and every one of them in a special way.

To which I say:  Baloney.  Not only should you, you really must.  Especially if you are a small office.

For one thing, studies show that 3-5% of your donor base can make a major gift.  If you have say 5,000 donors, that’s 250 who COULD make a large gift.    But which 250?  And let’s, for arguments sake pretend that you know 249 of them.  Perhaps you are missing the most major gift of all.

Even more importantly, you are costing your organization a lot of money by getting and then not keeping donors.  Not just in cost but also in goodwill.

We know that when you have a really great experience, over the next 2-3 days you’ll tell 7, maybe ten people about it.  But when you have a lousy experience, you are likely to tell many times that—and for a much longer period of time.  So many people happy may not get you much press—but making people unhappy certainly will and it’s press of a kind we don’t need.  Especially when it really doesn’t take that much to make a donor feel special.

Think about it—you work somewhere between 230-250 days a year.  If you took 30 minutes a day to make 10 phone calls or write 10 personal letters, you could reach out to 2,300 people in a year.  If everyone in your organization, on your board, volunteers—maybe even clients—did the same, think how far your reach would be.

You don’t have to say much:
Thank you for supporting us.  Because of you, we’ve been able to and here you fill in the blanks with something that your organization has accomplished recently.

And if you are thinking well, sure, I could write 10 notes—but calls?  Let’s get real here—mostly you will be leaving voice mail messages.  And that’s ok.  “Hi.  Thank you for being a supporter of (name your organization). My name is ______and I I just wanted to tell you that because of you we’ve been able to accomplish something wonderful.”  And remember, “something wonderful” doesn’t have to be enormous or earth-shattering.  If you were able to help one more battered woman; teach 175 students; save 70 cats and dogs from being put to sleep or whatever it is that you do that makes a difference in even one person’s life, then you have done something wonderful—and the person who has chosen to support you will also think it is pretty wonderful, otherwise they would have supported someone else.

Don’t short-change your donors and certainly don’t short-change your organization by not ensuring that all your supporters know that are really very very important people and you value them very much.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  She firmly believes that taking care of donors is the number one key to fundraising success.  Learn more at  While at her website, sign up for her free monthly newsletter.



About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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