Should We Raise the Minimum Gift for Our Top Donor Society?

Should We Raise the Minimum Gift for Our Top Donor Society?


by David Allen, Development for Conservation


Over the weekend, Julie S. posted the following question to the Land Trust Alliance Learning Center:

Because our land trust and budget have grown significantly over the past ten years, we would like to raise the minimum gift for our top donor society which currently starts at $1,000. The vast majority of our top donors are stuck at this $1,000 entry level and we’ve had trouble moving them up. The one and only tangible benefit of being in this society is an invitation to our annual top donor society.

We are considering raising the minimum gift to $1,500 or possibly even higher.

Among other things, I am not sure if I want to rebrand the whole top donor society, if and how I want to differentiate the $1,000 donor level and how much warning I should give those in this society about the level increase.

I will respond to Julie’s question on that forum, but I thought it was a better topic than the one I had picked out for this week, so I’ll use it here as well.

Donors DO get stuck on certain numbers – $100 and $1,000 are pretty common. Why do they get stuck there and what can we do about it?

Frankly, they get stuck because they are comfortable and unchallenged at that level. We become “one of their $1,000 charities.” To get donors to move off of their chosen level, we have to first understand that it is their level as much as it is ours, and we have to give them a reason to move.

There is an assumption behind Julie’s question that is worth examining: That there is an exchange relationship that exists now between what donors give ($1,000) and what they get (an invitation to our annual top donor society). To get donors to give more, we need to raise the price.

I would offer a different point of view.

Donor’s annual gifts are just that – gifts. Membership in the top donor society should not “cost” $1,000. That will get people stuck. Membership in the top donor society should come with a threshold gift of $1,000, but the actual gifts might come in a range extending to $2,500, $5,000, $10,.000, and even $25,000. You will get people moving up the ladder by asking them to in a very direct way.

In the same way that you ask $35 members to consider a gift this year of $50, $100, $250 or Other;

In the same way that you ask $50 members to consider a gift this year of $100, $250, $500 or Other;

In the same way that you ask $100 members to consider a gift this year of $250, $500, $1,000 or Other;

You can also ask $1,000 members to consider a gift this year of $1,500, $2,500, $5,000 or Other.

Your donors will say YES to such requests because:

  • You build personal relationships with them to help them see tangible results from their annual giving;
  • You ask them in a very personal way – in fact, in person if at all possible; and
  • You include a list of current donors in the solicitation materials – broken out by giving level, of course.

I would also offer the following three tactics:

Use a 10% increase request. Instead of asking donors to go from $1,000 to $2,500, ask them to “increase by 10%” in the letter and then list $1,100 as one of the response card options. It will be easier psychologically for donors to move from $1,100 to $2,500 than to make that same leap from $1,000.

Use a matching gift incentive. For every new $2,500 donor, the increased amount will be matched dollar for dollar. This is a perfect way to use aggregated Board giving.

Use your organizational Strategic Plan: Survey your membership and interview top donor society members in the early stages of the planning. Then take the draft plan back out to the top donor society members. Tell them how important their input was to the process. Tell them how excited you are about the organizational direction in the next few years. And ask them to “invest” in that direction by considering a three-year pledge of an amount greater than, perhaps double, what they were giving before.

Regardless – to get back to Julie’s question:

  • DON’T increase the “price.”
  • DON’T rebrand the giving club.
  • DO regularly ask for “upgrades” in giving by asking for very specific increases in person, if at all possible.
  • DO include the names of other donors, broken out by giving level, in the renewal solicitation materials.

You will still get donors “stuck” on certain levels, but you’ll have people moving up, too.

And both are probably OK.


Cheers, and Have a great week!



Related Posts:

On Donor Clubs – Take 1

On Donor Clubs – Take 2

On Donor Clubs – Take 3


Photo by Welington Cabral courtesy of



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  • Julie Ball
    Posted at 11:08h, 20 March

    Love the 10% increase idea! If we say in our strategic development plan that our goal is to raise Annual Fund giving by 25%, do you think that is a feasible ask? $1,000 to $1,250 OR keep it at 10% for current donors and keep working at adding new donors? 🙂

    To Carol: the donor list can be on the front and back of an 8.5×11 sheet, simple, and printed in-house if necessary. 🙂

    As always, David, you rock!

    • David Allen
      Posted at 11:51h, 20 March


      It depends on whether you’ve made your 25% goal public or not. Assuming not, I would probably keep it at 10%. It seems like it’s no big deal, and the main idea is to get donors to move more so than to hit some arbitrary number. A third possibility is to ask for $1,200 with the idea that donors can give $100/month.

      If your goal is public – ie you have shared it with your donors – then by all means, ask for a 25% increase to $1,250.



  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 08:28h, 20 March

    David, Thank you for another insightful post. I’m not sure I understand this point: You include a list of current donors in the solicitation materials – broken out by giving level, of course.

    I have never seen this done in solicitation materials, only in annual reports. Please elaborate.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:26h, 20 March


      New donors considering the top giving society will be influenced as much or more by who they recognize already giving at that level than by any other factor. It’s a nuanced phenomenon related to the more familiar “buyers’ remorse,” where you begin to notice all the other people who have the same car you just bought – it reinforces your decision to give if you’re not the only one who made it.

      Renewing donors experience the same phenomenon – they are looking at who is already at the next level up when they are making a decision to move up themselves. And seeing their own name on the list creates a sense of impending “loss” at the prospect of not renewing.

      In both cases, it is well worth including a list of current donors in your solicitation materials. Similarly, it is also well worth posting a list of current members on an easel at your giving club events, too.



    Posted at 07:55h, 20 March

    Would be curious to hear your thoughts on branding our top giving society. Membership in our top giving society comes with a gift of $1,000 or more. We call this leadership group “River Stewards”, with 21 current households. We are considering adding named levels River Steward: Silver $1,000 (now 46 households), River Steward: Gold $2,500 (now 7 HH), River Steward: Platinum $10,000 (now 6 HH). We also have 2 households at $5,000. We currently have a one-person Development Shop so aspire to keep it simple as we increase our number of leadership supporters. Thanks for any thoughts you can provide. Love your stuff. Enormously helpful, shared at our non-profit and put to good use! Many thanks.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 08:39h, 20 March

      Thanks for the question, Tricia.

      I know of two land trusts with Heron Societies that name the levels for different kinds of herons – Night, Blue, Green, and Tri-colored. Maybe you could find something you could similarly apply to the river.

      That said, I see no reason to brand the levels at all. Why not simply leave it the River Stewards, with different groups of people giving at different levels? A person considering a gift, and especially an upgraded gift, will be influenced to a far greater degree by the people already giving at the higher level than by some desire to be a Platinum versus a Silver.

      When you do brand a new giving level, start over from scratch with the branding, make the threshhold an order of magnitude higher, leave the River Steward program in place, and “induct” a critical mass of those already giving at the new level. For example: The Leopold Leaders (don’t really use Leopold) beginning at $10,000 with levels at $10,000, $12,000 ($1,000/month), $20,000 and $25,000. Once again, don’t name the levels, but DO list those already giving at those levels. I would wait in each case until I had a critical mass of people – probably 6-8 – already giving at the new level before I launched the new club.