Dear Kim:

We have several donors who have given us $1000-$5,000 for three or four years, and then last year and this year only gave $100-250.  I have thanked them, but heard you say in a keynote that we should call people like that and ask them why they decreased their giving.  This seems rude and none of my business.  Can you clarify?

~Not Nosey

Dear Not:

I have to back up a bit and say that I think you should be calling people who give you $1000-$5000 in any case every year.  Then when their giving goes down, calling won’t seem strange—you have a relationship and a call is part of that.  It sounds like you don’t normally call your donors and I don’t advice calling and saying, “Why have you decreased your gift?”  I do advise calling to thank them for continuing to give and then saying something like, “I notice that you have given much more in the past and I know many people had to cut back because of the economy.  I just want to make sure that we haven’t done anything that you might be upset about.”  Chances are the person will respond, “No, I am sorry to have to cut back, but my investments tanked/lost my job/got a divorce/had to pay college tuition”  Then you get to say, “Thank you so much for continuing to give at all.  And please know that your $250 is really, really helpful.”

If you never call donors no matter what they give, they have no reason to think that you notice when their gifts go up or down, or that you care one way or the other.  Think of your donors as friends, and think how you relate to your friends. You care about them, you are interested in their lives and you wonder what is going on with them.  Donors are not ATMs—they are human beings with feelings, and many of them feel badly that they can’t make the donations they used to make.  Calling and reassuring them that the gifts they have given in the past and what they are doing now is really helpful makes them feel better, which in turn makes them more loyal donors.

~Kim Klein