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Donor Participation Project

Fundraising Leadership Skills with Craig Evans (7/12/22)

Join Craig Evans, Associate Dean, Development and External Relations at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

Are you a fundraiser new to a leadership role? Being a leader is a different set of skills. Craig will discuss some ways to build a great culture and team and give you some ideas on how to implement them.

About: The Donor Participation Project (DPP) convenes fundraising professionals who are concerned about the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016). 

We believe this can be solved by changing our fundraising practices and want to learn from peers who are moving the participation needle.

Discuss this Topic and Learn with Your Colleagues During our July 12 Lunch Analysis

  • This event will take place over Zoom.
  • The session will be recorded and accessible post-event for DPP members only.

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Donor Participation Project Resources

How to ask for more fundraising resources

How would you advocate to your leadership for increased resources in donor participation-adjacent areas?

In all organizations, somebody above you will need to be convinced about the value of investing time and effort in areas like donor relations, stewardship, annual giving, or constituent engagement.

The Donor Participation Project got together in one of our Small Group Discussions to share ideas and strategies. Here is a summary:

Just as with a donor, you have to learn the language of your decision makers. Find out what information they feel they need in order to make their decisions and make your case there.

Design/share metrics with leaderships that reflect the impact of these areas. Not just “why is this number up, why is this number down.” Try to pull boards into looking at the operation holistically.

Analytics pay off! And you have to invest in analytics….it takes time and money to do it right.

Continual building of the pipeline is a requirement, albeit a low ROI process, but we still have to find those new prospective middle and major donors.  And ample time MUST be spent on stewarding existing donors in the way THEY wish to be stewarded…

Is development just about dollars or is it about relationships? The funny thing is that if you build relationships, it becomes a lot easier to get the dollars.

Try to focus on one or two headline items to prove that a relationship-based strategy works. For example, “retention rate of 2020 pandemic donors.” There is a lot of research that indicates that the second gift is pivotal to retaining donors. Most boards and VPs will understand the premise that it is much easier and more cost-effective to keep existing donors.

Also take into account that most people will not respond to your stewardship touches. That’s OK! You’re still reaching them. You will see their effect in their behavior (which means you should be measuring it as part of your efforts to prove your value).

Present your findings as a story. Yes, even organizational leaders are anecdotal and are oftentimes influenced by stories. A DPP member shared how she had made an effort to add personal notes from the CEO on monthly gift receipts, organized webinar roundtables to share what was on the horizon, and sent several notes to a particular couple with no response. Out of the blue, they reached out to her to “discuss their gift.” “Oh no, they’re cancelling their monthly gift!” she thought. Alas, that wasn’t the case. They wanted to send in a $100,000 stock transfer and mentioned all the communications they had been receiving.

Another way to approach the “people are lurkers” issue is to start small with your increased donor relations experiments. Start with your loyal and monthly donors so that you’re guaranteed early feedback before rolling an initiative out to everyone.

You can also increase your chances of a response with extreme timeliness. A DPP member shared good success with thank you emails from gift officers sent immediately after a gift (with the help of some marketing automation, of course).

With regard to endowment reports, another contributor was “shocked” when she pulled Lynne Wester‘s suggested endowment reporting value data:

The value of the work you do. Reporting is a vital component of our work, yet our time spent preparing reports doesn’t always resonate with leadership. You prepared reports for XXX funds, valued at XXX amount, sent to XXX donors, whose cumulative giving totals XXX amount. Share this with your leadership to show the worth of the reports and the time invested in them.” 

Other suggestions were more tactical: create remote job opportunities to fill staffing gaps and shortages. Recruiting from around the country will also diversify the staff.

In essence, more closes means more support staff needed on the back end (engagement/stewardship/donor relations). Show them verbally, visually, and then follow-up!


Deborah Best
Mindy Danovaro
Louis Diez
Jane Gulley
Dan Lombardi
Heather Thompson
Rob Zuback