I’m betting that headline stopped you in your tracks. What? Why would you want to raise less money than you did last year?

I can’t imagine that you do. And that’s precisely why I’m writing today.

How many of us know the true value of our existing donors? Those loyal people who have been giving to your cause year after year. Or perhaps they’ve only been giving for a few years but they give generously. If you do, congratulations. Pat yourself on the back.

Since you know how important these donors are to your organization’s long-term financial health and sustainability, I’m sure you wouldn’t remove these individuals from the direct mail stream in order to assign them a personal relationship manager for augmented stewardship, right?

That’s exactly what I’ve seen happen time and time again across many organizations. The goal is always to move these donors along and make them feel special. Exclusive. Important.

And what often ends up happening? They fall through the cracks. They feel neglected. Overlooked.

Case Study: Charity ABC

Charity overview

Charity ABC has been around for many years. They have a stellar reputation, provide great service, and are lucky to enjoy a very loyal donor base. Most of their donors are recipients of Charity ABC’s programming, and many have made generous donations to support Charity ABC’s important work.

Assigning relationship managers

Recently, the fundraising staff at Charity ABC decided that some of these donors would make wonderful prospects for an upcoming special campaign. As a result, the decision was made to move these donors out of the mail program (where they had been giving for years) to a personal relationship manager. The idea was that these donors would receive highly personal stewardship and would eventually be invited to make a significant gift in support of the special project.


The initial impact of removing of several hundred donors from the direct mail program meant that counts fell short for every mailing. Not only did this make for a much higher cost per piece based on the reduced quantities, but the revenue was drastically impacted.

More importantly, the relationship managers only managed to connect with a few of the donors that had been removed. Many had not received any communication at all from the organization for more than a year – and they hadn’t been asked to give!

We weren’t surprised to learn that some of these donors had eventually contacted the organization, confused that they had not heard from them, some asking if they could make a donation.

As a fundraiser, I imagine you’re likely sitting back and cringing. Inconceivable.

I believe that in the end, this was the impetus behind the strategy shift. We had counselled them against removing these donors from the direct mail program. We had advised them to ask donors what they wanted to receive from the organization, and how they wanted to receive it. But until the revenue had fallen drastically and donors had started complaining, the organization truly thought they were doing the right thing.


Although this is an extreme case, there are many instances as fundraisers where we question how best to manage our donors. We set internal benchmarks and timelines. We run reports and analyze giving history and behaviour. And we make decisions based on this information.

But at what point in the process do we consult with the donor?

If you take anything away from Charity ABCs experience, let it be this:  If you want to know how best to ‘manage’ your donors, ask them! Invite them to tell you how often they want to hear from you,  what kinds of information they find most interesting, and how they prefer to communicate with you. Invite them to volunteer or participate in an event so that they can learn more about your organization and the good work you do.

There is no reason your organization shouldn’t assign a relationship manager for mid-level or high-end donors – it makes good sense. But be thoughtful about the process. Keep in mind that the relationship manager’s primary objective should be to learn more about the donor and help deepen the relationship between the donor and your organization.

P.S. Charity ABC eventually migrated most of these donors back to their direct mail program, and I’m happy to report that revenue is now back on track.

Heather Brown, CFRE
Philanthropic Counsel, Good Works

This post was written by Heather Brown, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire. The article originally appeared over at The Hilborn.

Image credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Creative Commons.