Every nonprofit has a donor continuum—the journey they want their donors to take from that first gift (or even first enquiry) to becoming a committed donor and potentially even making a bequest to the organization. Yet sadly, too many donors aren’t progressing along the continuum; in fact, they are jumping off almost as quickly as they get on.

We have to lead the way.

Every time I hear a fundraiser respond to a question by saying, “Oh, that’s on our website; they can learn all about it there” or “That’s in the welcome brochure we sent out,” I cringe. It’s time to accept the reality that donors aren’t going to come to us; we have to go to the effort of meeting them where they are and then helping them progress—at their own pace—along our continuum.

Several years ago I stopped in a very popular chain counter-service restaurant. I’ve never been back because in all honesty, the restaurant made me feel dumb. I didn’t know how to order and the person taking my order was clearly not used to someone who didn’t have it all figured out from the beginning. I needed someone to politely offer to help me figure things out, but instead I stood there feeling inferior. So I’ve never been back.

Are we doing the same thing to our donors? Making them feel dumb? I think so. We need to stop expecting them to hustle along to where we want to be and instead gently guide them along the unfamiliar path of our donor continuum.

Here are three things we must start doing:

  1. We thank them for their gifts – but not just in a way that allows us to check “send receipts” off a long to-do list. We do it in a way that the donor is not only thanked, but he or she feels thanked.
  2. We actually deliver information to the donor; we don’t just expect them to search out what they want to know. We tell them what a difference their gift made. We show them photos and tell stories so they can visualize the good things they made possible. Over time, they may seek out this information on their own, but we should never assume they are interested enough to discover it on their own.
  3. We take their comments and complaints seriously. We may not be able to change something to be the way they’d like it to be, but we can at least listen and respond. Simply acknowledging a person’s concern can go a long way in building a growing relationship.

Yes, everything I have listed here costs money. But let’s say a donor now feels thanked, informed and heard. Could that result in another $25 or $50 donation this year? Could it move them another step or two along the donor continuum instead of just letting them leap off after a single gift or two? In the long run, isn’t the time it takes to thank, inform and listen to our donors worth a few dollars to receipt them, send them a newsletter and respond to them?

The choices we make in terms of how we are going to treat our donors determines their future with us—or if they will even bother to have a future with us. It’s time to help supporters walk along our donor continuum, not just roll our eyes in frustration because they just don’t get it.


Pamela Barden, CFRE, is a Direct Response Fundraising Strategist and Copywriter. With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations.  She specializes in writing fundraising copy, P.R. materials and instructional articles, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy.

As Vice President and Group Director at Russ Reid (2006–2009), she was responsible for the management of the largest single account for this marketing agency specializing in nonprofit fundraising.  Her nonprofit experience includes leading the fundraising work for International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (2001–2006); World Relief Corporation (1988–2001) and Youth for Christ/USA (1979–1988).

Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from the DMA, a Distinguished Instructor for UCLA Extension, adjunct instructor at University of La Verne and a weekly columnist for “Today in Fundraising.”

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