Recently a fund development officer at a local nonprofit asked me how to strategically increase the level of her donors’ gifts. She said several of her organization’s donors were giving at the $100 level and she would like to increase their average gift to $250 or more.

Finding ways to encourage donors to invest at a higher level is a common dilemma for fundraising officers. Some use a formula; others say it is an art. In reality, it’s probably a bit of both.

But I think it’s more personal than formulas or art — it’s about a person’s heart more than his or her pocketbook. People give where their heart is. Even if donors have a high capacity for giving, they are not likely to increase their gift to a nonprofit if they don’t feel a solid connection to the organization’s work or the leadership.

Some Nonprofits Use Moves Management Software

Still, most nonprofits want to encourage their donors to invest at a higher level. Some organizations use sophisticated software called Moves Management, designed to focus on a select number of donors with the ability and interest to make significant gifts.

Moves Management is a highly confidential process of carefully planned activity to advance the relationship of major donor prospects with your organization. This process involves a series of regular but often unexpected contacts with your prospect. The prospective donor eventually comes to feel that your organization is a meaningful part of his or her life. As a result of feeling more connected to the people and the work, many donors want to invest at a higher level as their way of making a difference.

Moves Management can occur through large but personal events, smaller directed events or one-on-one personal interaction. It is based on these five principles of moving the donor up the donor pyramid toward making his or her ultimate gift:

» Identification
» Information
» Interest
» Involvement
» Investment

However, in order for Moves Management or any process to be successful, it must be based on genuine concern for the prospective donor and always puts the donor’s best interests above anything else, including the interests of your organization. Any process you use must always adhere to the strictest ethical codes and the Donor Bill of Rights.

The Donor Plays a Key Role on Your Team

Let’s reframe this discussion from a different viewpoint. Think of your donor as part of your team — each person plays an important role: the board, the executive staff, the program delivery staff, the service recipient, the community, the volunteers, and the donors. Each person does his or her part to carry out the nonprofit’s mission and make sure it’s financially stable for the long-term.

How can we help the donors feel part of our team and understand the important role they play?

As a donor, I have appreciated being invited to tour a nonprofit or attend a gathering or volunteer for specific projects. And I mean a personal phone call — there’s nothing like it! Sending out an announcement on Facebook or mailing an invitation is good and should happen. But a personal phone call from a board member or a senior staff member to thank donors for their support and also to invite them to a gathering or to a donor appreciation event can be powerful. Donors receiving a call like that feel noticed and valued — they begin to realize they are contributing in important ways in addition to their financial gifts. They begin to feel like a member of the team.

Engage Your Donors

Engaged donors will generally make larger gifts. So have a small gathering for donors at a certain dollar level with an update from the CEO or expert in the field. Or invite a few donors to participate in a focus group where you can brainstorm with them about how to improve the organization — the services as well as the fundraising. Many donors have valuable ideas to share.

Meeting one-on-one with donors can be very beneficial, as well. Let your donor know you are tracking each of his or her gifts and report to the donor about the difference the gift made. Donors who feel their gifts are making a difference will be more likely to give at a higher level next time — especially if you ask them to.

Segment Donors by Gift Level

Another way to give a donor the opportunity to give at a higher level is simply to ask them to give a stretch gift. It sounds so basic, but you would be surprised how many donors report that they gave simply because someone asked them personally. Using direct mail, you could segment your lists and ask all donors who gave $100 to consider giving $125 or $150.

Don’t send everyone the same letter. Customize them to fit each level. Segmenting lists and customizing mailings are time-consuming, but it is one way to encourage movement up the ladder. Include a way on the return envelope for donors to give monthly by credit card or automatic checking withdrawal. This also increases donor giving.

Appreciate and Educate Your Donors

Having different giving levels and identifying benefits for each level may appeal to some donors, so be sure to have a donor benefit program. Some organizations use names such as “President’s Circle” and “Friends” to identify the various levels. Choose titles for the different giving levels that fit with your mission. Just be sure to ask your donors’ permission to include their name in your public lists because some people prefer to be anonymous. Donor benefits don’t have to be costly; they can be simply a newsletter, a special pin to wear at events, or invitations to special exclusive gatherings.

Educate your donors about recent program development or plans for the future. Let them know when you lose a key government or foundation grant and how that will impact your work. Many times donors don’t know what your needs are. So, informing them through newsletters, email, a personal meeting, or a phone call will help them feel connected and informed. This way they can make a more targeted investment that they feel good about.

Have a Heart

Donors invest in missions that resonate with their personal interests. They give because they have a heart for your work. They give because they trust you and your organization to achieve their own personal goals of doing good in the world.

Help them fan the flame of their passion for your work, and they will want to give more so your vision can become a reality. Appeal to their heart and their head and they will never fail you.

I invite you to visit my website to download free resources for your nonprofit.

— Cynder Sinclair, Ph.D., is a local consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137, or The opinions expressed are her own.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or The opinions expressed are her own.