The One Exception

Be the exception.

Last week I wrote about “Ask Culture versus Guess Culture” in major gifts fundraising, and how Ask Culture results in raising more money and keeping more of your donors.

But after hitting publish I remembered something…

I know of one major gifts program that never asks donors to give but raises tons of money and has a high major donor retention rate.

Here’s how that program does it:

  • Every single conversation and communication contains a clear reminder of “the need” that the organization exists to serve.
    • The only exception is when a donor is being Thanked for a gift they just made.  Those calls / handwritten notes / receipt letters are full of thankfulness. 
  • The organization absolutely “reports back” to donors on successes…
  • And they always mention what they think is needed next: from “serve the people who will need help next month” to “serve the people they haven’t reached yet” or “expand the successful program” or “start a new program.”

In a nutshell, the organization is so focused on “the situation” they exist to serve that they can’t help but mention that situation and the people they haven’t been able to help yet.

The consequence is the following three things are always being reinforced:

  1. The need exists right now, today
  2. What the organization would like to do about it next
  3. That funding for “what’s next” is needed

(By the way, notice the contrast between that approach and the standard approach that focuses almost entirely on people they’ve already helped / things they’ve already done, and how they are helping today.) 

To me, there’s something very pure about this organization’s approach to major donors.  They do the “relational” parts of fundraising very well: they thank donors with real gratitude, they report back on progress made.  They are personal and build strong relationships with donors…   

But the organization always makes sure their donors are aware of the need for their work.  They don’t make the foundational mistake of believing that making donors aware of their work will inspire significant giving.

This approach isn’t for everybody – in my experience it takes incredible emotional strength to be thinking about & sharing the need so constantly.

But this case shows that donors can handle it.  And that you can succeed in major gifts fundraising without asking often or directly.  But only if you have made the need abundantly clear and that funding is needed to meet it.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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