Reach out to your donors

It has never been more important than now to reach out.

You are either already experiencing a decline in fundraising revenue or anticipating one.  As you develop your “Plan B” and as your anxiety level rises, you may be putting a lot of thought into how to express your next ask in an even more urgent tone.

If so, you’re making a mistake and you’re missing a critical donor-centered opportunity.

Now is the time to tell your donors that you are thinking of them, that you know they are hurting, and that you hope they will be OK.  Now is the time to reassure them that your organization has a bottom line – that regardless of where the economy goes, your not for profit will still be out there, fulfilling your mandate as energetically as possible.  Now is the time to tell your donors that you will be able to keep going forward, not if your donors give in the future but because they have stood by you in the past.

Right now it’s more about your donors than it is about you.

For ten years, Cygnus has been conducting research with donors on what causes them to remain loyal to certain organizations while eliminating or reducing their support to others.  And, for ten years the answer has been the same.  At the top of a very short list of things that influence donor retention and gift value is “being acknowledged in a personal and meaningful way.”  This means treating your donors like people, not file numbers and gift amounts.  It means interacting with your donors in ways that assure them that you care about their welfare.  It means respecting your donors’ time and intelligence. And it means not just feeling empathetic, but showing it.

If you choose the donor-centered option — If you reach out now to acknowledge and reassure your donors — you will be rewarded.  Every research study we have conducted and every controlled test we have run has yielded higher gift values and longer retention from donors who have been treated with care and respect when they are not being asked for money.

This is your chance to make your donors even more proud of their association with you.  At the same time, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.  You must be under an enormous amount of stress.  Relieve it by telling your donors how much you appreciate them.

Showing 5 comments
  • Patty Rosely

    Last week, we began our new donor appreciation phone calls. Our board members are calling new donors and donors who have increased their gifts this year. While we are not always able to reach a donor, when we do, they are appreciative of the call – and often surprised that we are calling to to thank them. The added benefit is that the board member making the call is engaged in a critical part of the development process – and feeling great about their participation.

  • Mike Darrow


    As the former ED of the NC Association of Free Clinics, and a former Development Director, I cannot emphasize enough how ‘spot-on’ Ms. Burk’s comments are. Although many are advising otherwise, talking to your donors now is critical…and it’s not with the objective of asking for money.

    A ‘thankathon’ may be in order – print your list of donors, divide the list up among your Board members, or maybe staff, and call donors and thank them for the past support…and then shut up and listen. Amazing results happen when we talk to our donors, instead of ‘moving’ them or ‘working’ them…


  • David Broussard


    Being acknowledged and appreciated is key because it is the recognition of a contribution to the organization. This is especially important now when donors may have NOTHING to give monetarily because it gives your organization to thank them for being an advocate and a believer in your organization.

    When it comes down to it, organizations are not sterile entities but living breathing representations of those donors who, for a myriad of reasons, want to do what you’re doing in the world but can’t. To contribute money, connections, or just encouragement, is their way of “doing.”

    You are recognizing the “do-ers” and supporters.

    Another way to help donors feel connected and important is to help them find others who are potentially interested in your work. DOs can do a great job in this through relationship mapping. I reviewed seven different solutions on

    Thanks for your blog..


  • Rosemary Linsider

    Other than giving people this article and the associated comments, which I am doing, does anyone have any suggestions for counteracting the complaint some board members in my organization have to making thank you calls to donors? They think that people do not want to be bothered by more phone calls, even though the board members are not asking for money. I have also told them of examples from my own positive experience doing thank you calls.

  • Carone

    Our budget is continuing to be reduced and we are exploring viable option to stay connected to and continue to acknowledge our donors. Our department is attempting to go green. Has anyone attempted to use email as a form of acknowledgment? We are looking to use our standard format acknowledgment letter, create a personalized merge and email to our donors. The idea being to decrease production costs and promote a move towards going green. What are your thoughts?

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