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Key Steps to Avoiding a Fundraising Fumble

Key Steps to Avoiding a Fundraising Fumble

October 18, 2022
Kathy Gaston

Fall is synonymous with football! But in the nonprofit world, fall is end-of-year giving time. How you approach your donors will mean the difference between a touchdown and a fumble.

I recently received an email solicitation from an institution I have been very involved with; it was emailed to my address, but the letter itself only listed my husband’s name. If this organization doesn’t value me enough as a donor to use the correct salutation, why should I support it? 

Another example is receiving a solicitation letter addressed to “Dear (nonprofit’s name) Supporter.” Not taking the time to personalize your letters can make the difference in the success of your appeal. This may mean continually updating your database to reflect any changes in your donors’ personal situations. While it takes time to make changes to your donor database, doing so is an essential part of your fundraising success. 

Make your appeal personal. Use emotional language to tell the story of your organization and what you are able to accomplish with a donor’s gift. This is the time to thank previous donors for their past support and remind them why their continued support will make a difference to the people you serve. 

Make giving easy – include an envelope offering credit card/check giving but also include information about online giving. Consider increasing giving by offering a matching gift program. You must provide urgency to get donors to see how their gift right now will make such a difference. Social media giving appeals to a younger audience.

As you design your appeal, use personal terms such as “I” and “you.” (“We” also is personal, but use it sparingly. The focus should not be on your organization but rather on the donor.) This will make your donors feel as if you know and value them. Resist the urge to make the letter too wordy or too long – you can say a lot without overwhelming the reader with too much information. 

As we enter this season of giving, be sure to take into account printing and mailing delays that may affect your campaign. The timing of your appeal is as important as what you have to say. 

If you are appealing to your donors through several different platforms, be sure to evaluate them at the end of the giving season in order to plan properly for next year’s campaign. Platforms may appeal to different age groups, and the way those donors are approached may look different than it did in the past. 

Year-end giving accounts for a great deal of an organization’s overall income. Proper planning make take some extra thought and time, but the results will be more than worth it.


Kathy Gaston

Kathy joined Lighthouse Counsel after 20 years as director of development at The Oak Hill School in Nashville, where she led two successful capital campaigns. She also directed all volunteer activities and shepherded an annual fund campaign that achieved 100 percent parent participation. Kathy is founder of the Nashville Area Development Directors Association, has served on a number of nonprofit boards. She served as board chair for the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee and Lung Association of Tennessee. She has also served as president of Nashville Bar Auxiliary and chair of Lamar Alexander’s Inaugural Ball. She is a popular presenter and received the Circle of Excellence Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education for overall improvement in educational fundraising. Kathy holds a bachelor of science degree in education from the University of North Georgia. Kathy’s favorite quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)