Never Assume

The amount a donor is willing to give is always an unknown.  However, because the donor has a long history, lives in a certain neighborhood, has a certain job title, etc. it is reasonable to have an expectation.

Of course, if you expect $50 and all the donor can afford is $35, there is very little to worry about.  If you say you expect $1,000 and all the donor can or will give is $100, you might alienate the donor and receive nothing.  If you say you expect $1,000 and the donor was planning on $10,000, you may miss a great opportunity.

With years of experience, you can often accurately predict what the average donor will do.  However, it is hard to predict whether the person you are talking to is average.  They may have been average last week but change happens overnight and one never knows when the night of change has occurred.  By making an assumption about the donor’s willingness or capacity to give, you are making a decision for the donor.  It is the donor’s money, they should be the one to decide.

We all need trusted giving advisors, charity mentors and generosity coaches from time to time.  You want to be the person each of your donors selects for help.  The best mentors, coaches, and advisors ask us what we want then help us develop a plan for satisfying our wants.

Next Step:

Trust your donors to know what is the right gift for each occasion

Use the accuracy of your estimate of the donor’s gift to indicate how well you know your donor (the success of your cultivation)

Measure your success by the increase in donor generosity, loyalty, and engagement

There is nothing wrong with having an expectation.  However, it is best to keep the expectation to yourself.  A downside to vocalizing a guess is that a bad guess could end the relationship, weaken your funding stream, and reduce your nonprofit’s sustainability.

If what a donor offers is less than you expected, you know your cultivation process needs to be improved.  If it is more than you expected, you know there is more you must learn about your donor in future cultivation sessions.

Remember: Your job is to make the best case for giving to your nonprofit and let the donor decide how much your nonprofit and its mission are worth to them.

Take It Further:

Ask your board to use the changes in donor loyalty, generosity, and engagement as success measures for all of your fundraising activities

Apply the same approach to all other supporters (volunteers, referral sources, and advocates)

Ask yourself, “How much would this donor give if ours was their number one nonprofit?  What changes in the cultivation process must I make to raise our nonprofit to number one?”


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