Honoring a Fundraising Pioneer
The nonprofit industry lost a true pioneer when Don Kuhn passed away last November. He was 83. I didn’t really know Don; I spoke with him a few times, usually at DMA Nonprofit Federation conferences. But I know his work and his legacy.
Don was a pioneer, an innovator who loved donors. While working at the American Lung Association, he led the effort to move nearly 15 million donor records from index cards into a computer database. He was the pioneer of donor-file segmentation. He once wrote that no donor segment should ever be discarded, arguing that even lapsed-donor segments from 20 years earlier would have a few precious folks who would respond again. He was an early advocate for quick gift acknowledgments and reporting to donors how their gifts were being used. At the time of his death, Don was still consulting, helping others to improve their fundraising programs.
Don’s greatest legacy was his reputation for integrity and deep respect for the people who give to sustain America’s charities. He loved donors. He was
connected to those who give because they want to help others. He designed fundraising programs to tap into that goodwill and turn it into acts of goodness.
Don was a true legend in our industry. At the heart of his fundraising strategies and techniques, his technology solutions and creative expressions, Don maintained a keen focus on the donor. A quiet but passionate man, Don would never seek the spotlight. He probably would consider this tribute an embarrassing distraction from the work that still needs to be done. But a tribute it is. The best way those of us involved in the fundraising enterprise can honor Don is by re-committing ourselves to the principles about which he was most passionate.
Treat donors with respect. Donors are living, breathing, active human beings doing their part to make the world a better place. They’re not cash machines that spew out money with the proper stimulus. Fundraising is about donors’ dreams, their aspirations and their power to change the world. Respect and honor donors, and your fundraising programs will be more successful.
Give power to donors. Every donor has the right to fund the projects he or she wants to fund. Donors should have a strong and clear opportunity to
influence programs and your mission. They’re paying the bills; they deserve a seat at the table.
Ask donors for their opinions. Encourage them to share their ideas. Listen to your donors, and you’ll gain stronger loyalty and long-term support.
Serve donors. Donors give to accomplish specific things. They deserve accurate reports on what’s being accomplished through their giving. Make certain you acknowledge gifts quickly. Report your successes and your continued needs. The more your donors know what’s being achieved as a result of their giving, the more they’ll continue to give.
Let donors give. Sending an appeal letter or calling a donor to inform him of a specific need is a positive action that helps to unlock the grace of
giving. Empower your donors by giving them frequent opportunities to give.
These are just a few simple ways we can honor and respect our donors and remember the legacy of Don Kuhn, a man who always put donors first and, as a result, raised hundreds of millions of dollars for good causes.
Another is to give to the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation’s special fund that will be used to support testing and research related to charitable giving and donor-development techniques. Contributions should be made to the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation “Don Kuhn Fund” and mailed to 1120 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036. Questions can be directed to Laurie Spar at email@example.com.
Tim Burgess is co-founder and senior strategist at direct-response fundraising firm Merkle|Domain. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.