It’s Not Me, It’s You: Keys to Mending a Donor Break-Up

By Sarah Sims

We have all been on the receiving end of the infamous donor break-up letter…

Dear Organization,

I do not approve of X, therefore I will not support you anymore…

I disagree with your leadership, so I am pulling my gift…

You didn’t tell me how my gift was used, so you obviously don’t need it…

My child did not get accepted to your school…

You spent my gift on inflated salaries or sent me a tchotchke…

You sent this to my spouse, yet I am the graduate of your school…

I never hear from you except when you are asking for money…

Essentially, IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU.


Your Former Donor

And you know what? They are usually right. We don’t always treat our donors in the manner we should. Sometimes this is unavoidable (personalized communications for the masses is very challenging), but 98% of the time with a little thoughtfulness, strategy, and some solid service recovery techniques, we can avoid, and fix these situations.

Keys to Mending a Bad Break-Up:

  1. Reply. Always, always reply in-kind. If they emailed, email them back promptly. If they called, call them back. If they mailed a letter, write a letter back. Respond in the same manner in which they engaged you. And do this quickly.

  2. Listen. Always listen more than you talk. Validate their concerns and/or frustration and reinforce that they are heard and understood.

  3. Correct the situation (to the best of your ability). If your donor data or coding needs to be updated, ensure it’s done. If there needs to be others looped in on action items, make sure they follow-through. Ensure there are no loose ends that may worsen the donor’s experience.

  4. Document. Share the information gathered with others that are affected and look at sustainable corrections. Record donor preferences in the database to ensure longevity of the information. Ensure this experience is a learning moment for your organization and you come out stronger and more effective on the other side.

  5. Surprise and delight. When appropriate, a meaningful touch from your organization can go a long way in mending broken hearts. Perhaps you have a student send a hand written thank you note. Perhaps you create a short thank you video for the donor and email it to them. Craft an impact report that reinforces the good work they have enabled through their giving. It doesn’t have to be expensive or over the top – just thoughtful and timely.

Some breakups are permanent. And that’s okay. But with effort, laser-focus on the donor experience, and sound communication techniques, we can overcome even the toughest splits.

Tell us below how you have overcome a challenging donor break-up at your organization!

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JULY 18-19, 2022