Are Your Donors in a Giving Rut? 4 Ways to Get Them Out
Are your donors in a giving rut? Are they giving the same amount year over year? I’ve probably reviewed well over 100 donor files in the last several years, and I can tell you most nonprofits have portfolio donors who are in giving ruts. A giving rut is when a donor continues to give the same amount year over year.
Granted, I’d rather have a donor giving in a rut than not giving at all, but when I see this kind of giving behavior, it means something is not quite right.
The problem Richard and I encounter with organizations that have these types of donors is that they blame the donor for this giving rut. That’s easy to do. I hear, “Well, she really doesn’t want to give more. She likes sending her $5,000 check every December. I visit her every November to see how she is doing, and that seems to keep her happy.”
Or, I hear, "Well, I don’t ever ask him for a gift. I send thank you cards, bring him a little gift in November after Thanksgiving, and call to check in, but he likes to give his $10,000 annual gift from one of the December appeals we send out.”
I could write pages and pages of stories major gift officers have told me about why their donors give the amounts they do each year. For whatever reason, these MGOs have created some kind of story in their heads about their donors, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, how do you get a donor out of their giving rut?
1. Ask. You first need to come from a place or philosophy that donors actually want to give and give again. Donors want to help your organization more than once and give more than they are currently are—but you have to ask them. You have to get this little voice out of your head that is telling you not to ask.
2. Show the vision. One reason donors will give the same amount every year is that no one is showing them the big vision of your organization. When was the last time you sat down with your donors and told them where the organization was going to be in three to five years? Donors need to be inspired. Donors are thinking, “How does my gift fit into the bigger picture of the mission.”
3. Find fundable projects. Most of the time when I hear of donors giving the same amount every year, it’s because no one has sat down with them and matched their passions and interests with the great programs and projects you have. So, what ends up happening is donors self-direct their giving by what they think you probably need. Ugh! This is so backwards, but this is also too common in major gifts. Your job is to find those projects and programs, and because you know the donor so well, take a few of them and sit across a table, look the donor in the eye and challenge that donor to make an impact with a specific ask.
4. Be face-to-face with your donors. If you want a real investment from your donor, you can’t expect that to happen in the mail, over email or on the phone. It can happen, but rarely. You have to look a donor in the eye if you want to get him or her out of a giving rut. Donors want to be inspired, and they have to see your passion in order for that to happen.
Here are a quick couple of stories to inspire you to get your donors out of the giving ruts they are in:
One new MGO to an organization looked at the portfolio of donors and saw the giving pattern I was just describing above. Of her 150 donors, she had around 50 that gave the same amount every year. She decided that she was going to get to know these people, find something they would love to invest in, and go out, be bold and ask. Of the 50 donors, 45 of them gave a substantially higher gift that year.
Another MGO had on his caseload 22 donors who gave the same amounts year over year. The previous MGO had never asked the donors for gifts, but relied on direct mail to spur gifts from the donors. This MGO made it his mission to sit down with each of the 22 donors face-to-face and ask for a specific gift. Twenty of the 22 donors said "yes!"
I’m telling you, donors want to give more. It’s not their fault they are not giving you more. They just want to be inspired and asked. Don’t let that nasty little voice in your head trick you into thinking otherwise.
Their giving rut is your opportunity. Do something about it.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.