The “big favor” to donors that’s almost the meanest thing you can do to them

I’ve had front-row seats to this disaster several times:

The organization’s core donors (those who’ve been giving for three or more years) are suddenly lapsing at an alarming and unprecedented rate. Or to put it another way, the group of donors who normally have the highest retention rate of all donors are suddenly lapsing at a rate like that of brand-new donors.

Panicked, we dig into the data.

After a long search, the truth comes out. Thousands upon thousands of these donors have been placed on a “Do Not Solicit” list. Far more of them than could possibly have happened if the donors themselves were specifically asking not to be solicited any more.

Turns out somebody in the organization flagged them that way — without being asked. That person thinks they’re doing these excellent donors a huge favor:

They’re our best donors, so let’s treat them right by not asking any more.

This really happens.

And it’s deadly. Because when you stop asking people, guess what they do:

They stop giving.

And when 12 months with no asks goes by, a loyal, happy, supportive donor turns into a lapsed donor.

Which is really, really bad. But what’s worse than the lost revenue is that these donors lose out on something they love: making a difference by giving to your organization. Feeling the grace and power of charitable giving. Seeing their values put into action.

Why would anyone do that to anyone, much less their best donors?

The Far Edge of Promise puts it well in a recent post (with its own horror story about cutting of donors), at Do Not Solicit:

Our role as advancement and development professionals is to invite more people to give generously more often. It’s to ask questions to learn more about our donors’ interests, values, aspirations, and inclinations. It’s to educate people on the joy of giving. Our job is not to make decisions for our donors — and certainly not decisions that decrease opportunities for them to support a mission they find worthy.

Fundraising professionals who think donors don’t like to give are missing the most important point about donors: They give because they love to give!

Anyone who thinks they’re doing a donor a favor by removing their opportunities to give should find a different profession.

(This post first appeared on June 20, 2016.)


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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