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How to Transform Your Fundraising from a Merry-Go-Round to a Journey

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You’ve probably felt this: Year after year, campaign after campaign, you work so hard to do great fundraising.

Sometimes it goes great! 😃

Sometimes things don’t work very well. 🙁

You have amazing years and difficult years. 😃 🙁 😃 😃 😃 🙁 😃 🙁

Certain times of years are predictably strong, while others are not.

You get surprises now and then — some wonderful, others unpleasant.

You work like crazy, the revenue comes in, and you start to wonder: Is all of this is going anywhere? Are we making progress and building for the future, or are we stuck on a merry-go-round that gets more expensive and less fun every year?

The answer to that important question is entirely up to you.

Because there’s a proven successful path you can follow that gets you off the merry-go-round and onto an upward path that virtually guarantees you better results in the short-term, the mid-term, the long-term … and the very long-term.

Here’s the secret: Create an Upward Journey for EVERY Donor.

That’s it. When you have a realistic upward path — ready and in place for every donor — your fundraising almost immediately turns into a revenue growth machine that will fund your organisation this year, next year and for decades to come.

And I have even better news for you: There are just three upward paths. Each one is surprisingly easy to build and maintain. And they are proven to work by smart fundraisers all over the world.

Here are the three paths you can create for your donors:

  1. Major (and not-quite-Major) Donor Path
  2. Monthly Donor Path
  3. Bequest Donor Path 

Major Donor Path 

The Pareto Principle tells us that your largest donors are your top source of income. That’s why major donor fundraising is the most effective (and highest ROI) area of fundraising.

Here’s the most important thing to know about major donors: Most do not start out as major donors. For most organisations, more than 90% of them start with smaller gifts, and are indistinguishable from “general donors.”

Direct mail is still the strongest source of future major donors but apply this to all donors.

Some of these “hidden” major donors are consciously (and some unconsciously) “auditioning” you with lower gifts; if they have a good experience, they are willing to upgrade.

How do you encourage them to upgrade to their higher capacity for giving?

  • Be prompt and thank, powerfully and personally, all donors’ gifts.
  • Do a great job at reporting back on the impact of their giving.
  • Get their details right and use hyper-personalisation where you can.
  • Have superb donor service.
  • The signer should invite ALL donors to call them, personally, with any query. 

“Wow, you are so important and awesome, thank you. If you have a query, please call [someone else less important than me because I am too busy to talk to you]” kind of misses the point.

  • Do excellent fundraising that’s relevant, donor-focused, and action-oriented.

This is how you show someone that your organisation should rise to the top of their donation list.

As they signal their higher giving capacity by making larger gifts, be sure to treat them as special: Thank-you calls from executives, multiple thank-you letters, and bigger, more-personalised fundraising campaigns.

Major Donors — those who can make donations of five and six figures and up — are very rare. As a percentage of donors, they are tiny. As a percentage of revenue, they are critical!

But here’s the beautiful thing about this path: It also works with those “almost-major” donors — for most organisations, that is your top 20% of donors, with gifts larger than $100, $500, or so. Basically, anyone giving above the average is an ‘almost-major’.

They are just like Major Donors, but their bank accounts aren’t quite as big. Treat them well, and you’ll encourage them to rise to wherever their financial capacity — and their passion for your cause — can take them.

Creating an upward path for donors that encourages them to rise to their highest giving level can have quick and ongoing impact on your revenue. (Also, these mid-level and major donors are very good prospects for bequests. More on that in a bit!)

Monthly Donor Path

Not everyone can be a major or mid-value donor. But any donor can be a monthly donor. 

And giving monthly lifts many to mid-value donor status. The annual value of a monthly donor is three or more times higher than that of a general donor. And they stay on board at a much higher rate.

Their impact on your revenue is important — it’s steady income you can count on for years to come. 

Not all donors are interested in giving monthly. Most organisations are able to convert 5- 10% of donors to monthly giving — some quite a lot more. Your job is to find who those are and show them that it’s the right path for them.

Here’s how to do that:

  • Make sure all of your donors are aware that monthly giving is an option that is convenient and rewarding. Use “drip marketing” to keep the idea of monthly giving in front of them.
  • Phone donors soon after a gift (especially new donors), asking them to give monthly. The telephone is the most effective tool for converting donors to monthly giving!
  • Mail and email your donors about monthly giving at least once a year.


This is by far the biggest potential of all sources of revenue. Most donor families leave behind considerably more wealth than they think they have! The average charitable bequests are between US$20,000 and US$50,000 depending on your country. Wherever you fundraise: it will be a lot!

And we all know about the jaw-dropping bequests of seven figures and even more that can come from donors we had no idea had such capacity!

The downside?  It takes years — often decades — for that revenue to come to you.

After all, we want these lovely people to have long and happy lives before they make that final donation!

Bequest fundraising has the best return of ALL fundraising. And it isn’t that hard.

It’s a matter of keeping the idea in front of donors and finding those likely to consider such a gift. 

Most organisations spend far too little time and money on bequest fundraising, because the payoff is likely to come when someone else is running the organisation!

That’s a terrible excuse, but it’s the way things are. You can change this picture at your organisation. Please.

The best-known lead generator for bequests is the Supporter Connection Survey with a good bequest question. You should field one of these at least annually. This will generate leads that you will need to follow up by phone, online, or in person. A decision to put a charity in one’s will normally take weeks or months of consideration.

Telephoning likely bequest donors is another great way to generate and nurture leads.

Once you have a commitment from a donor to make a bequest, be sure to nurture the relationship with regular communication, acknowledgement and personal contact.

The power of the paths

As you can see, almost any donor can take one of these upward paths. 

But actually, they are not exclusive. 

A mail donor who becomes a monthly giver is now about twice as likely to become a bequestor!

Someone who gives over $1,000 is three times more likely!

The value of those donors is so high that you should see your general ongoing fundraising as a “feeder” program for the paths. With high-functioning upward paths built on strong general fundraising campaigns, you will experience a rising tide of revenue. It will magnify your good years and cushion the bad years.

And the impact will continue long after you’ve moved on to other places!

Want support and training to be an expert at building those upward paths for your donors? Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll get the tools, the information, and the supporting community that will take you to new places in your fundraising career

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