Seriously?!? Why not just mug prospective donors?

I have been simmering over an email I received a few weeks ago from a dear friend. In that email, she shared with me an invitation that had been sent to her by a non-profit organization to whom she had never contributed a penny.

For all of you “relationship-based” fundraising professionals, I encourage you to take a deep breath and have a seat. (Note: I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent and avoid embarrassment). Here is the gist of what the invitation said:

Please join us for a cocktail reception
to kick-off our annual campaign
<<Date>> & <<Time>>
Hosted By Mr. & Mrs. Smith
<<home address>>
A minimum donation of $500 is requested

If you wish to learn more about the agency,
please call the Executive Director.

After reading this email invitation at least 10 times, I was speechless; however, I think this YouTube video best captures how I feel.


Here is someone who is NOT a donor. The invitation was an email blast and not personal. There was no prospect cultivation done in advance. When you take these facts together with the “minimum contribution” request, I am left speechless. AND . . . just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, the invitee is told to call the executive director if they have programmatic or mission-based questions. WOW!

I apologize for my tone this morning, but things like this offend me because prospects and donors deserve better. Philanthropy is not about the “grab-and-run” fundraising approach . . . it is about connecting with people, discovering their dreams, and helping them put their charitable giving to work in a way that will help their dreams become reality.

I am left wondering if the volunteers who emailed this invitation were “taught” to ask in this manner. I know that it sounds crazy, but don’t human being typically do what they observe? If this is the case, then the non-profit agency who initially solicited these fundraising volunteers must be guilty of not possessing a “culture of philanthropy”.

This, of course, begs the question: “How can you change an organizations culture and instill a sense of philanthropy into it?” Thankfully, the fundraising sector has an awesome organization in The Association of Fundraising Professionals. I came across this awesome 2011 article titled “Building a Culture of Philanthropy” that speaks to this issue.

So many non-profit organizations are talking about “donor-centered fundraising” nowadays, but what is your agency actually doing to put these principles in place? Please use the comment box below to comment on this organization’s fundraising approach or how you ensure your fundraising volunteers don’t do things like this. We can all learn from each other.

Seriously . . . Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. What a timely email. This is appauling and made me think of a situation I was recently faced with. The difference is our organization had received a donation…but 7 years ago without folloup or stewardship. Do you think it’s appropriate to send this donor a personalized invitation to an org fundraiser with a $300 ticket price? During the phone call it was established that the organization had done a poor job of stewardship in the past and was focused on improving moving forward. The donor asked for updated information on the organization to be sent to him to review befor accepting an invitation for a visit. Look forward to your thoughts.

    1. This is unfortunately common, Tracey. Without knowing all of the facts, it is hard to comment, but . . .

      I would do exactly what the donor asked of you — send them the information they requested. If I could jump in a time machine, I would’ve done this yesterday. 😉

      As for the $300 ticket, this is a tougher call. Personally? I wouldn’t solicit them. Instead, I’d call my best board member or best donor who bought a table and beg them to open a seat at their table for this donor. I would call the donor back and tell them that in addition to the information you just sent that you’d like them to be your guest at the upcoming dinner. Assure them that the dinner is a “mission-focused” event and is a great opportunity to learn more about how the organization effecticely put their contribution to work years ago.

      Circle back with the person whose table will accommodate this donor, and come totally clean . . . and ask for their help in making this person feel welcome at the dinner (and hopefully share positive info during the course of the evening.)

      I hope this helps. Good luck with you situation!

  2. I agree with your points, and think that your readers would also appreciate an article at the Fast Company blog, entitled: “Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch | Fast Company
    Source: posted on January 24. (The link didn’t copy into the comments box).

    Even though it uses companies as it examples, I think it broadly applies to all organizations.

    Bill Huddleston
    The CFC Coach
    billhuddleston at verizon dot net

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Bill. I just love it when readers weigh-in with additional reference materials because I so strongly believe that we can all learn from each other. I promise that I will go check this article out. I hope others do too! Thanks for reading the blog.


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