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‘Tis the season to engage donors

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Keith Curtis

Keith Curtis

Keith Curtis

Now is the time for all nonprofits to rush their year-end appeal letters into the mail.

With the economy improving, there’s a good chance the end-of-year donations garnered from those letters will be up over 2008.

But if you’re counting on them to save you from a down year in fundraising, you may need a reality check.

The problem is, mailings don’t create relationships with donors, especially the all-important major ones. And here’s why that’s vital in this economy.

A study released this year, conducted by Bank of America and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, focused on households with either an annual income of $200,000 or more, or a net worth of at least $1 million.

Of those high-net-worth households surveyed:

  • 81.4 percent donated to basic-needs charities during 2007 and early 2008, compared to 29 percent of the general population
  • 77.8 percent donated to education, compared to 15 percent of the general population
  • 68.4 percent donated to arts, compared to 8.3 percent of the general population

When giving is down, board members need to go where the money is to create relationships.

Year-end mailings may help raise awareness and capture smaller donations, but they put the burden on your staff and let your board off the hook.

Think about it: When you get an appeal letter from a nonprofit that you’re not involved with, do you feel immediately engaged with or connected to the group?

Now more than ever, board members must be clear that not only is their role to raise money, they also must advocate for your cause by visiting donors to educate, inform and thank them.

So while most experts say an economic recovery has begun, your board still has to step up.

The latest “Spotlight” report published this month by our colleagues at the Giving Institute and the Center on Philanthropy says it could be another two to three years for giving to return to the record levels it reached in 2007.

But if your board members fulfill their role of opening doors and building donor relationships, your organization may bounce back faster.

Another new study, this one by the Center of Philanthropy and Campbell & Company, reports that donors who were asked to give in person (to secular charities) by someone they knew donated 19 percent more than when asked using phone, mail or email.

For religious organizations, donors who were asked in person gave an incredible 42 percent more.

Finally, from the study on high-net-worth households cited above, here’s the top reason those donors stopped giving to a charity: “No longer feeling connected to the organization.”

Work to keep donors engaged and you’ll keep that from happening to you.


Keith Curtis is a board member of the Giving Institute, the founding organization of Giving USA Foundation, and is president of the Hampton Roads Gift Planning Council. He is also president and CEO of The Curtis Group, a fundraising consulting firm. Keith can be reached at keith@curtisgroupconsultants.com or 757.496.2224.

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