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How to Get Your Donors to Give More

When it comes to getting your donors to give more, it’s a good news/bad news/good news situation. And lucky for you, the good news far outweighs the bad.

If you’re an effective leader in a nonprofit organization, you’re constantly searching (or at least you should be) for new and innovative ways to get your most loyal donors to give even more. And, if you’ve been doing this for any length of time, you also understand that this is not an easy task.

In this article, we’ll lay out a good news/bad news/good news scenario and identify eight specific things to get your current donors to give more. If you follow this advice, you’ll not only increase the likelihood that your best donors will give more but, in the process, you’ll also create stronger relationships and a higher-performing organization as well.

The Good News

The results are in—and the news is good!

According to the findings generated from the 2016 Burk Donor Survey—one of the most important national, charitable-giving studies conducted—donors gave more in 2015 as compared to 2014 (and they reported they planned to give even more in the coming years). In fact, in 2016, 22% of respondents indicated that they planned to give more while only 7% expected to give less. In addition, 59% of respondents thought the value of their philanthropy would be approximately the same as it was in the previous year. Only 12% of respondents felt unsure or that it was too soon to predict how much they would give in the coming year.

The Bad News

The results are in—and the news is bad!

In the very same 2016 Burk Donor Survey, researchers astutely highlighted 15 evidenced-based reasons why donors planned to give more in the coming year. Topping the list (by far), 53.7% of respondents indicated that they will give more because their finances are making it possible to do so—and therein lies the bad news.

The reason that this is bad news is because— even though donors reported that their financial situation will allow them to give more—you, as the leader in a nonprofit organization, have absolutely no control over how much someone earns in a given year (or, for that matter, how much they budget and plan to set aside for contributions). Moreover, you also have zero control over those annoying, unanticipated “life” events that routinely creep into people’s daily lives thus impacting the amount that can be contributed.

For many nonprofit leaders and fundraisers, this is a paralyzing and frustrating place to be.

On the one hand, there’s reason to be significantly optimistic as your donors are reporting that their incomes will allow them to give more. On the other hand, it’s a little disconcerting to know that the future of your organization largely revolves around your donors’ financial situations—especially given the uncertain times that we are living in.

But, worry not—there’s more good news.

The Good News

With the good news and bad news now behind us, it’s time to bring this thing home with more good news—and there are significant reasons to be optimistic.

If the goal is to increase the amount that your current donors are contributing, the results of the 2016 Burk Donor Survey reveal that you’ll need to STOP doing certain things and START doing others in order to maximize donations. This is good news indeed because the findings from the Burk Donor Survey suggest that there are a number of concrete things that are under your control that can be exploited to increase giving.

Four Things You Should Stop Doing Immediately 

Stop using a “lackluster economy” as a reason for needing additional support. 

One of the most interesting findings from the 2016 Burk Donor Survey was the fact that the economy no longer resonates strongly with donors as a factor in their decisions—either as a motivator for giving to causes that help people negatively affected by a downward economy or as a reason to hold back their own philanthropy. To be sure, your fundraising appeals (and copyrighting) should focus squarely on the things that more profoundly influence donor behavior. We’ll address this in the next section.

Stop recklessly asking for additional donations. 

It should come as no surprise that a nonprofit organization’s donors stop giving because they receive too frequent solicitations or are asked for unreasonable amounts. In fact, donor attrition is now approximately 65% between the first gift and second gift—and more than 90% of donors stop giving by the fifth appeal.

Stop increasing your overhead/ administrative expenses. 

Research reveals that donors do not generally want to give money that is needlessly absorbed by overhead and administrative expenses. Rather, they would prefer to give funds to organizations that positively impact challenging situations/circumstances and change lives for the better.

This is where the researchers from the Burk Donor Survey suggest that nonprofit leaders need to think “chess” not “checkers.”

Rather than arbitrarily reducing budgets and/ or implementing a hiring freeze, researchers suggest that correcting the imbalance between high-volume and high-quality fundraising is the most appropriate way to reduce cost. Indeed, researchers from the 2016 Burk Donor Survey reveal that retaining more donors (i.e., reducing attrition) and improving average gift value reduces cost-per-dollar raised automatically and sustainably—more on this in upcoming articles.

Stop giving token gifts to those who give. 

While it might seem like a good idea at the time, the research is clear: donors do not appreciate tokens, trinkets and/or tchotchkes. What’s more, most donors will simply throw these items away—and worse, these objects might even create doubts in your donors’ minds about whether your organization is using their contributions in the most effective way.

Four Things You Should Start Doing Immediately 

Start inspiring your donors by creating a bold vision that stirs the heart and moves the guts. 

Time and again, research reveals that donors will give more if they are adequately inspired—and this is something over which you have specific control. As the leader of a nonprofit organization, you’d be wise to spend large chunks of time crafting and perfecting your organization’s vision. And, once that’s accomplished, it’s worth the investment of time and energy to indoctrinate both board and staff members alike in helping them to carry the message to everyone and anyone who will listen.

Start featuring your organization’s most influential leaders, board members and donors.

Your organization’s most influential leaders, board members and donors have an extraordinary sway over your constituents who have previously made contributions. By putting these people in the spotlight, you not only deliver a bold vision of hope, but you can also have the message delivered by the right people at the right time.

Start getting to know your donors more as people. 

Regardless of the amount that people give, there is the reality that your donors want to be seen as more than open pocketbook. And aside from making a genuine difference in the lives of those who are in need, this is honestly the very best thing that nonprofit leaders can aspire to. Forging meaningful relationships with committed donors (and volunteers for that matter) is a wonderful experience—and one that should not be overlooked if you expect to keep your key donors in it for the long haul.

Start following up and saying “thank-you.” 

It’s such a simple thing—and yet nonprofit leaders routinely neglect to do it. Thanking donors for their support is not only the gracious thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. When people are committed to a cause and giving selflessly saying “thank-you” goes a long way.

Your expressions of gratitude can take a variety of forms—but a telephone call and/or a handwritten note might be the most effective. Oh and by the way, the closer in proximity to the time the gift is given the follow up takes place, the better off you’ll be.

Parting Thoughts 

The key to being an effective fundraiser is engaging your donors over time to get them more involved in your organization’s mission. When this is done properly, your donors and key constituents feel increasingly more connected to your organization’s cause. As a result, donations grow substantially—and this is a good thing for everyone involved.

In this article, we’ve shared the good news, bad news, good news scenario and identified eight specific things you can do to get your current donors to give more. By following this advice not only will you create stronger donor relationships but you’ll be advancing the greater good as well.


Patrick Traynor, J.D., is the Executive Director of Dakota Medical Foundation and Impact Foundation. In 2004, Pat led the establishment of Impact Foundation and its Institute with the support of Dakota Medical Foundation and Alex Stern Family Foundation. His visionary leadership is guiding North Dakota and western Minnesota to become the most generous and healthy region on the planet.

The Impact Institute equips exceptional leaders to make an extraordinary impact. The Institute provides an annual pathway of tools and trainings that unleash the limitless potential of people to create greater impact for their nonprofit missions. It was founded and is a proud partner with the Dakota Medical Foundation and Alex Stern Family Foundation.

Scott Holdman is the Impact Institute’s Director. He is an innovator in nonprofits who, through training, coaching and product creation helps organizations to thrive. He is a professional creative with 17 years of experience in the social sector solving complex challenges.

Dr. David Hunnicutt is the CEO of David Hunnicutt Int’l. He is a sense-maker, simplifier and the arch-enemy of underperforming cultures. Obsessed with helping leaders create breathtaking change, he is inspired to do cool stuff daily.

Impact FundingLogic™ is a six-segment, revolutionary sense-making system for fundraising that will help you achieve greater results to dramatically impact those you serve.


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Barry, F. (2013). “15 Techniques Used By Top Nonprofits To Boost Donor Acquisition And Online Fundraising Results.” npENGAGE. Accessed on 11/21/16 via online at

Burk, P. (2016). “The Burk Donor Survey: Where Philanthropy Is Headed In 2016.” Cygnus Applied Research Incorporated. Accessed on 11/21/16 via online at

Flandez, R. (2012). “Donors Say They Would Give More If They Saw More Results.” The Chronicle Of Philanthropy. Accessed on 11/21/16 via online at

Garecht, J. “How To Upgrade Your Donors.” The Fundraising Authority. Accessed on 11/21/16 via online at

Network For Good. “A Nonprofit’s Guide To Recurring Giving: Maximize Your Online Fundraising Results With Continuous Donations.” Network For Good. Accessed on 11/21/16 via online at

Turner, M. “5 Ideas That Will Give Your Donors A Reason To Stick Around.” Nonprofit Hub. Accessed on 11/21/16 via online at

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