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Top 5 Habits to Break Right Now

By Keturi DeLong


I'm a huge supporter of examining and reexamining our work—always pushing to be better today than we were yesterday. A collective focus on improvement can go a long ways!

Join me in breaking some of these top 5 bad fundraising habits.


1. Making it about you

  • Stop calling them “my donor.” Donors give through us, not to us. We are simply matchmakers. They aren’t “my biggest donor” or “my largest donor.” I picture Jolly the Green Giant and Godzilla enjoying a laugh. They are GENEROUS donors.

  • Letters from staff don’t work. Impactful appeals and acknowledgments have two signatory options: (1) someone who is impacted by the gift, or (2) a peer to as “join me” and validate the cause. Save staff signatories for apology letters and receipts.

  • Stop posing for the check presentation picture. If you must have one, let students accept the check.

  • Donors don’t care about our metrics and goals, so don’t mention them.

  • The donor’s relationship is with our cause, not us. They don’t give because they like us. Align their interests with the cause and resist the urge to underscore common personal interests.

  • As fundraising professionals we are simply staff, hired to raise money for our cause. We’re not the heroes; donors are.

2. Equating sales tactics with fundraising

  • No “pitches” and “spiels.” We aren’t selling anyone, anything. Ask questions. Listen with curiosity. Repeat.

  • Stop over-emphasizing giving societies. Serious philanthropists don’t give for a status, title, or lapel pin.

  • Rethink Tchotchke gifts.

  • Yes, congratulations, you’re a hoarder’s dream come true. But you are using donors as free advertising.

  • Stick to tchotchkes for recruitment initiatives and marketing.

  • Invest in individualized and impact-centered stewardship. Show them how they made a difference.

3. Expecting someone to give because they are wealthy

  • Entitlement is dangerous.

  • Wealth does not mandate generosity.

  • Inclination trumps capacity (GASP!). Focus on your cause champions, and steward current donors.

4. Perfectionism

  • Avoid over-produced, jargon-filled donor communications. Stick to authentic, rustic, or student produced videos. I love blooper reels, and a good belly laugh.

  • When humans are involved, mistakes are inevitable. Own them. Make the complainant a part of the solution. Share how they improved the process for the future.

  • Remember – If no one noticed a mistake, no one cared. Apathy is the real enemy.

5. Longing for things to go back to “normal”

  • This pandemic has changed things forever, and the creative organizations that adapt to this new landscape will thrive. Adjust strategy to new reality.

  • Leverage technology for maximum impact (increase video, digitize impact reporting, create a digital gift officer team, conduct rapid-fire introductory zooms with deans and leaders).

  • Try something new. Measure outcomes. Adjust. Try again. And have some fun!

What are some other bad fundraising habits or pet peeves you'd like to get rid of? We'd love to hear in the comments!


Keturi DeLong is a DRG fan, Vice President for Philanthropy and Engagement at Texas A&M University - Commerce (Go Lions!), and Chair of CASE District IV Cabinet. Keturi is embracing 2021 with a sense of humor, curiosity, and gratitude.