Strategies that Suppress Giving – A Response

Strategies that Suppress Giving – A Response

 

14 May 2024

 

By David Allen, Development for Conservation

 

A few days ago, Richard Perry (Passionate Giving Blog) reposted an item he originally posted in 2021 about common strategies used by nonprofits that actually suppress donor giving. It’s interesting, because the items he lists are items that I commonly promote as items that will help BOOST donor giving. I’m sure that many of you read it. Several of you invited me to comment.

OK, I will.

 

But first a bit of context. Richard Perry’s primary audience is professional major gift officers (MGOs). Professional MGOs are people hired to work with a “portfolio” of up to 150 major gift prospects to raise hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars every year for large-scale nonprofits like colleges, universities, and medical facilities.

I like the Passionate Giving blog a lot because it serves to constantly bring us back to basics related to building and maintaining strong individual relationships with donors. To discover and understand their peculiar interests and preferences and to help them more effectively direct their giving to make the difference they want to make in the world.

My primary audience is small to medium-sized land trusts and other conservation-related organizations. Sure – in a perfect world, all of us would know our donors well enough to tailor specific cultivation and solicitation programs to each individual. And in this narrow context, I tend to agree with the points Perry makes in his post.

The problem is that it’s not the world small to medium-sized conservation organizations live in. In fact, it’s not even the world most college, university, and medical facility donors live in either – all those alumni who are NOT included in an MGO’s portfolio.

 

So, let’s look at Perry’s Five Strategies That Suppress Donor Giving.

  1. The Annual Fund – Most land conservation organizations don’t use this strategy by that name, though they certainly use variations on the theme. Perry’s point is that funneling all fundraising activity into a single “campaign” timed for the fourth calendar quarter, ignores other times of the year that people might be interested in giving and assumes that donors will prefer to only give once. He asserts (and I tend to agree) that people will give 2-4 times each year if the opportunities are compelling and consistent with their interests. It’s easy to agree with these points, but I don’t see why a holiday appeal letter and Giving Tuesday “campaign” means you can’t ask at other times of the year as well. In fact, I regularly recommend that we ask donors to give up to four times each year – membership/special appeal cycles in the Spring and Fall, a monthly giving solicitation in January or February, and a planned giving mailing in June.
  2. Pledges – One can infer from Perry’s writing about pledges that he is referring to monthly giving programs. The problem, according to Perry, is that once the program is set up, these donors are often ignored and excluded from other giving opportunities such as special appeals and capital campaigns. In this sense, I believe he is correct. There is no reason to exclude monthly donors from appeals, and we fail to steward them at our own peril. His post drew a single comment from Erica Waasdorf, who has written several books on monthly giving. She regularly promotes the ideas that regular communication about impact can result in these monthly gifts steadily increasing over time and that monthly donors are actually more likely to respond to special appeals.
  3. Membership Programs – Perry asserts that “membership programs suppress giving when the expectation with the donor is essentially set up as become a member and that’s all that needs to be done.” I’ve certainly never proposed that idea, and I don’t know many land trust organizations that do.
  4. Giving Club /Societies – I promote the idea that giving clubs recognize annual membership levels above a certain threshold, $1,000 for example. They give donors a social reason to make unrestricted gifts in support of the mission, as opposed to making gifts in support of specific projects. In fact the strategy is tailor-made for donors not giving even $1,000 to that point. In other words donors who would not make an MGOs portfolio anyway. Perry’s point is that even with society threshold amounts of $50,000 and $100,000 per year, they suppress giving for many of the same reasons that membership programs do – people giving to the Society will feel like they’re done. My experience has been different. I don’t believe giving to projects and giving to mission are mutually exclusive. It’s not a binary choice, and many donors will give to both if they are clearly asked to do so.
  5. Campaigns of All Types – Perry’s complaint about campaigns is that in many cases the relationship ends there. The organization celebrates the success of the campaign and then ignores the donor relationships until the next opportunity comes along. In this respect, again it’s easy to agree with his underlying point. But the problem doesn’t lie with the strategy. It lies with the organizational failure to steward donor relationships.

 

One sentence really stood out for me in Perry’s post: “In all of these situations, the donor gives less than they could.” I’ve never approached donor relationships with the goal of maximizing the short-term “profit” realized from each donor. My goal has always been to maximize the quality and length of the donor’s relationship with the organization.

I’ll gladly sacrifice donors’ “giving until it hurts” in favor of “giving until it feels good.”

 

What did you think of Perry’s post?

 

Cheers, and have a great week!

 

-da

 

PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

 

Photo by Susi Anderl courtesy Pixabay

 

 

 

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3 Comments
  • Beth Golden
    Posted at 23:36h, 16 May Reply

    I think of pledges as multi-year commitments at higher levels, first time I’m seeing it applied to monthly donors. I think Richard’s suggestion to let donors know that you may come back to them with opportunities that fit their interests is a good one where the donor has the capacity to give more.
    And yes, monthly donors tend to be great candidates for planned gifts!

  • Charlie Quinn
    Posted at 18:27h, 14 May Reply

    Thank you, David – I couldn’t agree more with your closing thoughts – “I’ll gladly sacrifice donors’ “giving until it hurts” in favor of “giving until it feels good.”” Maybe that is why Perry’s donors don’t continue to give more or more often – the first time just hurts too much? 😉 All kidding aside, I do think that pushing donors to give too much too soon can result in one larger – and final – gift. Also, a big huge YES to “My goal has always been to maximize the quality and length of the donor’s relationship with the organization.” It pays to remember that most people change their estate plans at least five times during their lives and usually at least once within their final five years. Strong-arming a big outright gift now which results in sacrificing the relationship and therefore a bequest (that can be orders of magnitude larger) just isn’t worth it.

  • Bob Ross
    Posted at 08:16h, 14 May Reply

    “His post drew a single comment from Erica Waasdorf, who has written several books on monthly giving. She regularly promotes the ideas that regular communication about impact can result in these monthly gifts steadily increasing over time and that monthly donors are actually more likely to respond to special appeals.”

    Several of the charities I work with report this experience. At Big Apple Greeter, for example, 60% of the monthly donors also give during specific campaigns and 40% of the monthly donors have named BAG in their wills or trusts.

    She wrote recently: “I just got back from a client meeting in PA. Always great to see how their monthly donors continue to grow. They now have multiple monthly donor programs and they’re starting to really grow their legacy gifts to boot! If you’ve not yet looked at that connection, I highly recommend it. Monthly donors are 6 times more likely to leave you in their will! And it really does not take much to plant the seeds about legacy gifts to your loyal donors.”

    https://mailchi.mp/adirectsolution/recurring-rocks-4756741?e=1c75740d6b

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