Are You Asking Donors For Too Much?

Last week, we wrote about one of our favorite topics – upgrade strategies and tactics.  But if we have learned anything in our years of fundraising, it is that sometimes it is just as important to learn when the focus should shift away from upgrading your current donors to maximize the health of your file and reach program goals.


Strategies for influencing donor behavior are very rarely a one-size fits all approach. When a new donor is acquired, there should be an immediate focus on retaining that donor and upgrading that donor’s giving throughout their relationship with the organization (the sooner, the better!).


But at some point, the reality is that most donors stay in their comfort zone when it comes to giving – and it is important not to continuously make them feel like what they are giving is not enough. It is easy to fall into a trap where upgrade tests are going out month to month without realizing what that may be doing to the donor experience – especially when some donors have actively said ‘no’ to an upgrade already by staying at their current gift level, despite being asked for more.


So, how do we make the call that it might not be the right time to ask for more?

As always, it is all about that data.


Recency of last gift.

As fundraisers, we all learned on the first day of the job that the further you get out from a donor’s gift, the softer the response rate likely will be in any given campaign. So, is it really appropriate to be asking your pre-lapsed and lapsed donors to upgrade? At some point, it probably makes sense to shift your strategy to response driven tactics that will help retain/reactivate more of these donors.


Watch mid-level and major donors.

It is common to have a wider selection criterion for your mid-level and major donors. Perhaps when it comes to lower gift levels you only include donors who have given in the last two years, but as gift levels increase, you go back further – maybe pulling in the last three or four years. This makes complete sense when it comes to identifying those audiences we want to keep engaged. But should those lapsed mid-level and major donors be included in your annual invitation package that they have already said ‘no’ to a few times? Perhaps it would be best to send them a message that really focuses on getting them to give again – at any level – and work on that upgrade later, after they have re-invested in the mission of your organization.


Make data and goals actionable and meaningful.

A common question that often comes up in annual file reviews is what % of donors have adjusted their gift levels in the last year – looking specifically at upgrades, downgrades, and donors who have stayed the same. While this can be a nice data point to have, it often can lead to establishing organization-first goals that don’t take into account all donor behavior. Adjusting how we look at this might lead to some strategic insights. For example, instead of looking at the % of upgrades/downgrades, etc., look at how much those upgrades translated in terms of revenue, and where we saw those upgrades coming from. Are there more donors who look like that audience that you can/should be focusing on, and what could that mean in terms of revenue and donor value long-term? Likewise, what did the % of downgrades mean for the organization, and where are those coming from? Is there something that we could try to help at least keep that audience maintain their giving vs. write them off as a negative data point? Focusing on driving up just the % of upgrades likely does not really speak to program goals in a holistic way.


Upgrading donors is in a fundraiser’s blood, so it can be difficult to not weave in an upgrade attempt at every turn, and even more difficult to admit that some upgrade efforts are not in the best interest of the organization because they’re not in the best interest of the donor.


And remember, those donors who give to you consistently – even in the lower levels – can be some of the most valuable for your organization long-term, and especially when it comes to planned giving – making it equally as important to understand when asking for more just might not be the best path forward.


So, for a little upgrade Zen, try this mantra:


Grant me the serenity to appreciate the donors I cannot upgrade,

the right strategy to upgrade the donors I can,

and the data-driven wisdom to know the difference.

Candice Briddell

Candice Briddell, Managing Partner and Co-Owner, has worked within the fundraising and marketing industry for nearly twenty years and has been a part of the MINDset team for over a decade. Prior to that, she was integral in the retention marketing program at AOL.