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With well over a million non-profit organizations registered in America, each competing for their share of the revenue pie, every donor becomes a valuable asset. Yet a surprising number of nonprofits are inadvertently chasing donors away.

You would never knowingly risk the allegiance of your donors with an offensive or irritating appeal, or alienate supporters by forgetting to acknowledge their contribution to your cause. And yet, many organizations, from the largest to the smallest, have done just that.

Understanding your donors is the key to building lasting connections with them. Giving away money to support a cause is a very personal, often emotional choice. Try seeing your campaigns through your donor’s eyes and you’ll avoid some of these mistakes.

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Here is a brief roundup of comments and complaints from forums, blogs and threads around the web.  What nonprofit strategies drive supporters crazy and end up chasing them away from the charities they would love to support?

Incentives and Gifts

Most of us desire a calmer, uncluttered life with space to focus on what’s really important – health, personal relationships – what money can’t buy. Add in the concept of “paying it forward” and nonprofits should be ringing in the boom time. So what to do about potential donors like these would-be-supporters who said:

  • “I will not donate to any charity that bombards me with address stickers and cards and I will keep that nickel glued to the card.”
  • “I just wish some of these charities would stop sending me calendars, hideous note pads and address labels and use that money for their stated causes instead.”

The bottom line is, despite comments like those above, that these tactics actually work. Coins and gifts deliver positive motivation for many people.

But why not offer the choice to opt out of this type of gift mailing, a possible solution for donors uncomfortable with this approach?


Also read: 8 Tips for Your Nonprofit’s Spring Appeal


Don’t Reward a Donor’s Gift with a Curse

Imagine the frustration when, after contributing to a charity, the donor finds themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of phone calls, emails, newsletters, appeals and junk mail?

  • “I wish someone would set up an “anonymous donation” website …That way the charity never gets your details and can’t flood you with appeals.”
  • “I ordered some gifts online from the [Charity] Christmas catalog and you couldn’t complete the order process without giving your telephone number, then the calls started. I should have put any old number in… once they get your contact details it’s endless!”

There will always be those reluctant to donate, fearing an avalanche of phone calls, email and mail from their single donation. And some nonprofits are guilty of selling their mailing lists.

To gain trust, why not state on the “FAQ” page that you only send x number of emails or four letters a year and do not sell your donors’ information. Follow this promise through with action.

Don’t Ignore Your Donors

Sometimes a donor is motivated to contact a charity with a complaint or request. Perhaps they have been on the receiving end of a flood of communication or want to update their information. But when they’re motivated (or irritated) enough to call or write to the organization, why is their communication is completely ignored?

  • “I put numerous calls into the [Charity] headquarters, asking to be removed from the call list. I left messages with development staff AND the president of the organization. I never received a call or an email back.”


Complaints of this nature are often the result of an inefficient system. When data bases are not maintained, donors’ requests can go missing. Don’t ignore them, they will eventually ignore you and move on to other causes and organizations.


Avoid Emotional Blackmail

And manipulation and patronizing. If your donors are savvy enough to support your cause, then they’re old enough to know what they’re doing. Don’t guilt-trip the elderly either; it’s just not nice. Here are comments from two people who changed their giving choices because they felt manipulated. And a comment from one former charity volunteer who couldn’t fulfill her role and quit.

  • “I will only donate to charities that don’t assault me with horrible pictures of sick, starving animals.
  • “I absolutely HATE the emotional blackmail tactics used by these charity ads, and will always support smaller charities that can’t afford to plug themselves in the media.”
  • “My job was to call the elderly who currently donated and to guilt-trip them into making more contributions.”

Once again, using graphic images is an approach that works. We all know people respond better to a cause you can put a face on.  These are images intended to engage readers, and affect what the viewer thinks, feels or does.

Pictures are powerful tools; for this very reason, they should be carefully chosen to tell the story without being so offensive that the donor is driven away.

As for guilt; it’s a potent emotion but hard to use effectively in fundraising. So often it can back-fire, leaving the recipient resentful and angry.

Also read: Fundraising in January? 7 Reasons Why You Should!

Donors Do Their Research, Too

One thing donors care about is how much of their dollars reach the intended recipients. People want to feel that their money is making a difference, not contributing to inflated salaries for management. There were many comments echoing this donor sentiment:


  • “If you want to help animals, donate to the local rescues. They are the ones who save and re-home animals. They are volunteering their time and service – not drawing six-figure salaries like the [Charity] executives.”


Transparency is a force for good here, assuring donors that their dollars are making the difference they intended.

Keep Your Donors Sweet

The nonprofit sector is a customer service business, serving donors; you must sweat the small stuff. It’s often the little things that are chasing donors away. You’re building a relationship with your donors – even before you get to know them.

Don’t chase your donors away. Put yourself in your donors’ shoes, and think how you’d feel to be on the receiving end of that letter/email/appeal. The above-mentioned techniques may work for larger charities with a huge marketing budget. If you’re a small charity you have to be more careful about not inadvertently chasing your donors away.

The best strategy to maintain a happy relationship with your loyal supporters is still good, old fashioned courtesy. Mind your manners, say “please” and “thank you.” In fact, say “thank you” often. Tactless, inappropriate appeals and lack of communication will chase your donors away.

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