Posts tagged donor etiquette
Most of the leadership & business books today advocate being generous in sharing compliments with co-workers and others. I find many to be insincere. What is the secret of giving a good compliment?

In giving a compliment avoid “glittering generalities.” Mention a specific trait you like about that person. Don’t merely say, “You are a great boss!” Explain why you think she is a great boss. For example, “You have created an enjoyable work environment. Your willingness to listen makes me feel significant in my job—especially last Friday when I was feeling down. Thank you.”

Explaining the details will take more time and require you to put some thought into your compliment. But it is worth it! You will have uplifted your boss. She already knows she’s “great.”

Similarly, with giving partners avoid glittering generalities like, “Your support is encouraging!” Rather try, “Your faithful giving each month without a miss puts wind in my ministry sails—thank you.”

Take your time. 

Should I mention an amount or range for my donor prospects to consider? Or is that too pushy?

99% of the time you should suggest an amount or a range.  A friend in Wisconsin told me, “Scott, tell the missionaries to give me some idea of what they want me to do.  I can’t read their minds!”

Without suggesting an amount or range donors can only guess at what you want him or her to pray about.  And most likely, their commitment will be lower than you were hoping.  But have a rationale for what you are asking, don’t just pick a number out of the air.

How often shall I write my giving partners?

At the risk of sounding "formulaic" here is a formula! And an explanation! 

This is what I have done for many years and it is well received by my partners.

4GL  plus  4DL  plus  Turkey Day gift  +  5


  •  4GL --  four general newsletters to everyone on my mailing list.
  • 4DL -- four additional letters to donors only (these letters are shorter and I share more personal stuff.)
  • Turkey Day gift -- I send a gift or calendar for the coming year on Thanksgiving morning with a short letter explaining that I am thankful for them.
  • I also try to personally visit each donor every five years.

This means that my giving partners hear from me at most nine times per year since they also receive the 4GL's and the Turkey gift.

Some ministries recommend sending a letter once a month. That's unrealistic for many--including me! Behind this formula is the marketing concept of "segmentation." I have segmented my list into donors and non-donors. I assume donors are more interested and so they receive more news. The principle is: Send the most information to those who want the most. Some might hear from me more than nine times.

I do two other things that are instinctive and cannot be put into a formula.

  • If a donor is on my mind for a day or two (and they often are) I email them or phone them on the spot. I tell them I'd been thinking of them and that I hope everything is okay.
  • When a donor writes or calls I respond even if they are not asking for a response.

Q. Be honest! Do your donors always hear from you nine times a year? Come on...

A. Honestly, most years they do. But sometimes my formula may drop to 3DL plus the Turkey gift. But my Anchor Donors of $2500 and up will always hear nine times.

Should I continue to send newsletters about our ministry? Or does this push them away from giving?

The question includes a bad assumption—newsletters are always about money! Your newsletters should not be about money—in fact, don’t mention money except to say thanks generally for “supporting you,”

Your newsletter carries the banner of your ministry vision—not  to coerce or “guilt” readers into sending gifts! If your letters constantly hint about finances then, you are right, readers will be pushed away from giving!
How to get readers excited about your ministry?  Don’t merely list your activities for the past year. Yawn! Here are a couple suggestions:

  • Tell a story about one person who is benefiting from your ministry—a saved marriage or someone who has found a personal encounter with Christ. 
  • Tell a sad or challenging story about a person who needs your ministry.
  • Show a photo of you in action in your work. Put a caption under it because people always read captions.
  • Keep it short—one page! You don’t read long letters do you! One page, one photo, one story!

How about this strategy?  Send four “vision” newsletters per year to everyone on your list. Send three additional thank-you letters to donors-only. Send an appreciation gift to donors-only once a year. Send a cash project letter to everyone on your list once a year. (That’s the time you talk about money!) Learn how to write an effective cash project letter from my book, Fund Your Ministry at

What if someone says they will give but never do?

If you ignore it your “giving friend” will think you didn’t notice or didn’t need the money after all.  Letting it go is not an option!

Try language like this:

“Bob, I want to thank you for your promise to support our work with $50 per month.  But I notice that your first gift has not come in to our ministry headquarters yet…or am I missing something?

How can I serve you?  Shall I come pick your first check up…maybe we could have a little breakfast together and I’ll take it to the office right away.  What is best for you?

The reason I am so persistent on this is that I am not allowed to launch my ministry until I am fully subscribed.  This is a serious matter.”

If the donor seems to want to backtrack on his commitment: 

“How do you feel about this, Bob?  Is God in it?  I don’t want to pressure you because of 2 Cor 9:7 (quote it).  But it seemed like you were quite sure you wanted to support us….”