About Younger Donors…


The next time a person at your nonprofit says, “We need to get younger donors!” have them read this:

Top 5 Mistakes: Chasing Younger Donors.

The post is from Bill Jacobs at Analytical Ones.  Bill’s been analyzing nonprofit databases and fundraising effectiveness for 25 years, and he knows what he’s talking about.

He lays out the two main arguments for why nonprofits should not chase younger donors, and I’ll add three more:

  • The research I’ve seen indicates that older donors tend to give more than younger donors.  So all things being equal, a 70-year-old donor is more valuable to an organization than a 35-year-old donor in the near-term.
  • Older donors give you a greater chance of receiving a legacy gift.  Last I heard, the average legacy gift in the United States was North of $40,000.  So a 70-year-old donor is more valuable to an organization than a 35-year-old donor in the long term, too.
  • On average, most donors don’t stay on a nonprofit’s donor file for more than 5 years.  So even if you do manage to acquire a bunch of 35-year-old donors, the vast majority of them will have stopped giving 20 years before they’ve entered their prime giving years.

Read Bill’s post and have a couple of these numbers handy the next time someone brings up younger donors.

In fact, Bill’s whole “Top 5 Mistakes” series is great.  Easy-to-read, short and data-driven, what’s not to like?

And I think we all know this, but I’ll say it to be safe: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with younger donors.  Welcome them!  But unless your cause is massively attractive to young people, trying to acquire younger instead of trying to acquire older donors is not a good financial decision.

Trust Your Donors

High trust.

If you’re at an organization that has a hard time approving new ideas in fundraising, keep reading.

(And maybe you’ve just arrived home from last week’s Nonprofit Storytelling Conference with your head full of new ideas you’d like to try!)

To many people working in nonprofits, new fundraising messaging and tactics can feel deeply risky. And so, some of your team will push back against your new ideas.

To those people, when they push back, here’s what I want you to say…

“I want you to trust our donors. I want you to trust that they could be giving more, and that they are adults.”

“I want you to trust that their support is deeper than a new message, new tactic, or new appeal could shake.”

“Let’s trust that our fundraising right now is not the best it can ever be. And let’s trust that, like larger organizations, we can regularly try new things and improve over time.”

Will each donor say “yes” every time we try something new? Of course not.

Will every “something new” work better than the thing it replaces? Of course not.

But until you trust your donors enough to regularly try new things, to ask for support more often, and try new messages, you’ll never tap into all the giving available to you.

Don’t let internal worries and fears put boundaries around your donors’ generosity. It’s your donors’ job to set their boundaries, not yours.

Trust your donors. Their generosity will astound you.

Messaging Mishaps

What not to do.

There’s a difference between the messages most organizations want to send, and the messages that make donors want to give.

This is a Big Idea for organizations who want to grow their fundraising programs. Let me explain…

Most organizations have a way they like to talk about their organization and their work. They create this “way of talking about the organization” by having staff and core stakeholders come together and talk about why they think the organization is so effective and why its work is meaningful. And they talk about why they think people should give gifts.

Those ideas come together to form an organization’s messaging. And in some cases, those ideas are codified into a brand.

There are two important things to note here, and I believe they are the cause of most of the ineffective fundraising that’s out in the world.

First, note that the organization likes this messaging. Remember, the messaging is made up of the reasons staff and stakeholders think the organization is effective & meaningful. The “reasons for support” are the reasons those staff and stakeholders believe are the most important. The organization is sharing the reasons the staff and stakeholders think the donor should give a gift.

Second, most individual donors are markedly different from staff and stakeholders. The vast majority of individual donors – especially if an organization wants to scale past a few hundred donors – know less and care about different things than staff and stakeholders do.

Here’s a thought exercise for you…

If an organization sends out fundraising with messages that would motivate staff and stakeholders to give… but the people who receive the messages know less and care about different things than the staff and stakeholders… how well do you think the fundraising is going to work?

Not very.

The Leap

What happens for organizations that make “the leap” to the next level of fundraising success is that they start making their fundraising more other-centered.

The organization sets aside what staff and stakeholders like about their organization. They set aside why staff and stakeholders think people should support them.

The organization then does the hard work to figure out what donors tend to support. The organization does the hard work to figure out the messaging that causes regular people to respond.

So, are your appeals sending the messages your organization likes sharing? Or, are you sending or the messages that you’ve figured out are more likely to get a response? Because the messages an organization wants to send aren’t likely to be the messages that are most effective at causing individual donors to give.


If you’d like help creating and sending fundraising messages so that your organization makes “the leap” to your next level, get in touch. We stop taking new customers around the end of October because there’s so much to do for year-end, so if you’re interested, I’d encourage you to fill out this form for a free conversation.

Time-Sensitive Reminder: Donors Aren’t Thinking About Your Cause


I wrote last Thursday about how donors put themselves on the hook.

Donors have chosen to take some responsibility for what is happening in the world, and to do something about it through their giving.

But that doesn’t mean donors always remember that they care, or even think about your organization.

Personally, I don’t remember very often that there’s a lack of affordable housing in the Seattle area. It’s just not something I think about. But I’m thankful that a couple organizations regularly remind me, because it’s an issue I care about.

I think most donors are in a similar situation: donors aren’t inclined to think about your cause or beneficiaries often, but it’s in their values to do something about it.

At Better Fundraising, we think that one of the functions of fundraising is “to remind people who care that there is work that needs to be done.”

I say all this because Fundraisers and organizations are often uncomfortable sending out fundraising that reminds donors of the work that needs to be done. It can feel awkward.

So I want all Fundraisers to remember that your donors chose to be responsible. They know that work needs to be done. They care. But they probably don’t remember right now.

Your fundraising provides the invaluable function of reminding them and giving them a chance to do something about it.

Easy Money: Ask Your Monthly Donors to Give a Little More Each Month

Ask for more.

Have you ever asked your monthly donors to upgrade, to give you a few more dollars each month?

You should. Here’s why…

Your monthly donors are usually 3 things:

  • Your true fans. They are the folks who are really bought-in to your organization or your cause. They cared enough to make the commitment to be a monthly donor.
  • Able to give more. Most (but of course not all) monthly donors have the capacity to give more. You already know that they respond great when you send them appeals, and often send in 13th and 14th gifts during each year.
  • Pleased to give more. They are true fans. They love getting to help your cause, and they love getting to help a bit more than they normally do.

Put all that together and you can see that it’s a no-brainer to ask monthly donors to “give a little more each month.”

Here’s a quick summary of how we do it:

  • Once a year, run a mini-campaign to monthly donors that asks them to increase their monthly gift by a few dollars.
  • A direct mail letter tends to be the anchor of the campaign. Include email if you can. The best-performing campaigns always include telemarketing, but you don’t need it to succeed.
  • The campaign’s messaging thanks the donor for the good they are faithfully doing every month, tells the donor how either/both costs and the need are increasing, and asks the donor if they, “could give an extra $4, $7 or even $11 more each month to help” (or something like that).

Oh, and we usually run the campaign in one of two general timeslots: January 15 through February 15, or September after Labor Day.

You’ll be thrilled at how many of your monthly donors say “yes” and start giving more each month. And I’ve never seen the increase in their monthly giving affect their response to other fundraising efforts throughout the year.

The things you might fear will happen, won’t happen. You won’t have mass cancellations. You won’t get complaints.

I helped an organization with a thriving monthly donor program do this for the first time several years ago. They began raising an additional $60,000 every single month. Now they run the “monthly donor upgrade” campaign once a year, and they send it to every returning monthly donor who didn’t upgrade the previous year.

Now, that’s a big organization. But right now, many of your monthly donors could be giving your organization a little more money each month and would be happy to do it.

My recommendation? Prepare a “monthly donor upgrade” campaign and run it this September or at the beginning of next year. You’ll be thrilled you did.

Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint

Receive complaint.

Here’s a handy outline for how to handle a complaint in person or on the phone.

You’re welcome to modify the outline as needed for your organization – there isn’t any magic in any one particular step. But there is magic in the overall approach, which I’ll describe below.

This approach assumes that the person complaining is reacting to the content or strategy of your fundraising, as opposed to an error the organization made, like mailing a donor who has asked not to be mailed, or calling a donor by the wrong name, etc.

Here’s the outline:

  • Thank the person for getting in touch.
  • Ask them to tell you what’s bothering them.
  • When they are finished, ask, “Is there anything else?”
  • Thank them for reading and responding to your fundraising.
  • Tell them that you appreciate them because most people a) don’t pay as close attention as they do, and b) don’t get in touch when they have a problem.
  • Tell them that you’re sorry they don’t like the [INSERT REASON FOR COMPLAINT], but that your organization a) does this because it causes the most engagement with donors, which b) causes the most gifts to come in, so that c) your organization can help your beneficiaries or cause as much as possible.
  • Tell them that your organization realizes that not every donor is going to like every piece of fundraising, that you wish that weren’t the case, but “the occasional staff or donor not liking the occasional piece of fundraising” is a small price to pay in order to help more beneficiaries.
    • NOTE: you can even say, “I don’t really care for [INSERT REASON FOR COMPLAINT] either, but I know it works great and because of it we’re having more of an impact than ever.”
  • Ask the person if they would like to be communicated with differently (e.g., “removed from appeal letters,” or “receive fewer communications”).
    • Repeat their preferences back to them, and ensure your organization has a system in place to execute their preferences.
  • Thank them again for getting in touch, and for giving you the chance to tell them why your organization does fundraising the way it does. Then tell them that you so appreciate the person getting in touch so you can communicate with them in the way they want to be communicated with.

The Big Idea

The “magic” of this approach is the belief (and attitude) that your organization has done nothing wrong.

Most organizations respond to complaints and complainers out of fear. The whole conversation with a complainer is filled with fear-based worries like, “Are we going to lose this donor?” and “So many other donors must feel this way.”

And after a conversation with a Complainer, there’s often an immediate push to change an organization’s fundraising approach – regardless of whether the approach is successfully raising money.

Don’t use that fear-based response. Instead, believe that your organization has done nothing wrong and confidently follow this outline.

Because complaints are going to happen to any organization that’s raising more and acquiring more individual donors. The trick is to learn to accept complaints as a “cost of doing business” instead of managing the organization to remain small enough so that you rarely get them.

Read the series:

  1. Getting Used to Complaints
  2. Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint (this post)
  3. Not All Complaints are Equal
  4. Natural, But Not Productive
  5. The Two Times Smaller Orgs Get More Complaints
  6. So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.
  7. The Harmful Big Assumption
  8. Turning Complaints into Gifts
  9. “Friendly Fire” — Complaints from Internal Audiences
  10. Our Final Thoughts on Complaints

Fundraising when the world turns upside down…


Shortly after my organization started following new, more effective fundraising methods, the pandemic hit.

To my surprise, the fundraising writing tactics I had learned still worked, even in this new upside-down world.

Maybe you remember how many unknowns there were.

The stock market tanked. People were sent home from their jobs – many people lost their jobs. In some areas of the US, people couldn’t leave their homes except for a few reasons like going to the grocery store.

For a few months, it felt like the world was on pause.

But the need to deliver on our mission didn’t go away, for my organization or other organizations. Funds were still needed, but would donors still give?

At my organization, there was some question of whether it was appropriate to ask donors to give in this climate full of unknowns.

But all the advice I was seeing, hearing, reading from professional fundraising strategists (including Steven Screen!)…

…if there is a need, ask your donors to give. Full stop.

DON’T stop fundraising.

If donors CHOOSE not to give, that is their decision. But if you don’t even ask them to give, you are deciding they won’t give without even asking them. And you are letting your mission or your beneficiaries down.

So, I advocated for more appeal letters, more emails, more personal touches, more sharing in the uncertainty and asking donors for help.

I was pushier than normal, and this felt very uncomfortable. This was when I realized a big shift had happened. I was a fundraiser.

I had developed new instincts, and they were fundraising instincts.

I began to trust myself and my organization was, once again, willing to try something that felt uncomfortable.

And AGAIN, donors responded in a big way.

Donors wanted to help.

Many of these donors were sitting at home, feeling helpless, and giving was something they could do to help.

Key lesson here. When there is a need, ask donors to help. Even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough.

When you ask, you are empowering donors to do something – to help right a wrong, to provide something that is needed, to make a situation better. And that is noble work.

Whether you are new to the direct response fundraising world or you’re a seasoned pro, maybe you see yourself somewhere in this series.

It can be scary to let go of what you are used to and try something new. It can be humbling to admit the rules you’ve been following are the wrong rules for the job in front of you. It can be uncomfortable to push for something that others at your organization question.

In these moments, keep your mission in front of you – your organization’s mission AND your mission as a fundraiser.

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. Whatever the fundraising job in front of you, be bold and clear with your donors, and then trust them to do the rest.

Comment here or find me on Twitter @sarahlundberg.

Read the series

The Fundraising IS the Relationship

Fundraising relationship.

When it comes down to it, fundraising is not that hard.

You treat donors and potential donors with kindness and respect. You try to build relationship with them.

We all “get” the relationship aspect.

But every organization has some donors that you are never going to be in relationship with. These are donors who don’t go to events. They are $25 donors and major donors who you’ve never met and won’t return your calls. They aren’t known by anybody on your staff or board.

But you still want a relationship with them. And believe it or not, it’s possible to have a GREAT relationship with them.

Here’s the secret…

Your Fundraising IS Your Relationship

You’re already in a relationship with them.

The way you communicate with them is you send them fundraising. The way they communicate with you is by giving a gift… or not.

So for your side of the relationship – the fundraising that you send them – the question becomes; “How are you going to show up?”

Take a look at a bunch of standard practices is mass donor fundraising, and think about all of these in the context of relationship:

  • Fundraising that talks mostly about the organization itself, and very little about the donor
  • Only sending out a couple pieces of fundraising a year, and going dark (ghosting) for weeks and months
  • Fundraising that, when sharing success stories made possible by the donor and the organization, focuses almost exclusively on the organization’s role
  • Fundraising that’s written to the organization’s level of expertise, instead of written to the donor’s level of expertise

You’d never put up with those behaviors from another human, would you?

It’s almost like we ignored the basic principles of relationship when we created mass donor fundraising plans and materials, don’t you think?

So is it any surprise those approaches don’t make for effective fundraising?

Your Side of the Relationship

Here’s how to hold up your side of the relationship, how to show up in your donor’s life and be the type of organization that she’d like to be in relationship with:

  • Fundraising that’s mostly about what she cares about (your beneficiaries and what she can do or has done to help), and less about your organization
  • Fundraising that regularly shows up in your donor’s life
  • Fundraising that focuses more on the donor’s role and less on the organization’s role
  • Fundraising that’s written to make it easy for a donor to understand

Follow those principles and you’ll build GREAT relationships with donors you’ve never talked to.

And over time, many of your donors will “upgrade” their relationship with you through attending an event, giving you a major gift, including you in their will, etc.

And it will have happened because you made the generous choice to show up in their lives.

You held up your end of the relationship in a way that made them want to get to know you better.

This post was originally published on October 21, 2021.

Use your Social Posts to Build Better Donor Relationships


Fundraising is as much about building relationships with your donors as it is about raising money for your cause.

This is especially true for your mass donors, who because of their sheer numbers often don’t receive the face-to-face attention that your mid-level and major donors would. And it’s because of this, that frequent communication to your mass donors becomes more important.

Think about it this way…

Every appeal letter, newsletter, email, phone call, and social post from your organization is building an important relationship with your donor.

And one of the easiest, and most cost-effective ways to build that relationship is through social media. It may not yield the same number of gifts as your appeal letters, but social media can be an engaging way to interact, often in real-time, with your donors… if it’s done right.

There are lots of social media tips and tactics for fundraisers out there, but sometimes it’s worthwhile to remember the simple things.

1. Keep the post focused on one idea

Try not to muddy the waters by including multiple messages in your social post. Many organizations make this mistake and lose the donor’s interest in the process. Tell a story, promote an event, ask for help, but try not to do everything all at once. Remember, you only have a few precious seconds to grab and keep your donor’s attention, so keep focused on idea.

2. Make sure the image or video you use is relevant

It might sound obvious, but if you’re planning on including an image or a video in your social post, make sure it’s relevant to your headline and content. If you’re talking about Thanksgiving, for example, consider using images that best illustrate this holiday.

3. Make sure your landing page links work

Every clicked on a URL only to be directed to a random page? Or none at all? Before scheduling your social post, be sure to check the URL you’re using and that the content in your post matches the content on the landing page.

4. Keep your message donor-focused

Your social posts can absolutely be an extension of your fundraising, so just as we recommend doing with your appeal letters and newsletters, write your social posts with your donor in mind. Talk about the impact of their gift, how they helped solve a problem, or the difference they can make.

These four reminders are basic, and may be second nature, but if you’re tentatively dipping your toes in the social media water, and need some lane ropes, then we hope these suggestions help you build better relationships with your donors.