mythbusters Have you ever heard this saying – “You can’t keep going back to the same well – it will run dry.” You might have heard it from a Board member or Executive Director and usually this comment pops up during a discussion of grant writing or direct mail.

It’s said out of fear – fear that if you ask a donor too many times for support they will stop giving. It’s kind of funny really – we have some self-imposed ceiling on the number of times we can ask a donor for support, and we arbitrarily set this ceiling without input from the donor. Most of the time, we don’t even know exactly how many times we can ask a donor before it becomes annoying. We operate from this vague notion of “too many” to describe it.

Here’s the truth: you can ask a donor for support as many times as you need it, provided certain conditions are met.

  1. You are cultivating real donors. A real donor is someone who is invested mentally, emotionally, and financially in your organization. She cares about your organization’s work and the people you serve. She wants to see you be successful in delivering service and fulfilling your mission. Real donors give because they want to and because you asked. They don’t keep a scorecard with marks representing every check they write.
  2. You are building relationships with your donors. In order to get real donors, you must build relationships. You spend time getting to know you donors and why they care about your organization. You invite them to tour your facility or to volunteer on the front lines. The more you engage your donor in the work you are doing, the deeper their commitment to your organization will be.
  3. You practice donor-centered fundraising. Your fundraising efforts revolve around the donor, not around the organization. You share information with the donor about the impact of her gift and you invite feedback from her. Communication is not just one way. You let the donor tell you how often she wants to hear from you and you honor her wishes. In other words, you allow your donor to opt out of mailings.
  4. You have a valid need for support. When you ask your donor for a gift, there is a real need. I’m not talking about being in crisis mode or trying to reduce the debt on your building. A donor will respond to these kinds of needs once in a while, but what they really want to support is continuation or expansion of a program that delivers tangible benefits. You can ask for support for the purchase of a piece of equipment that will help you become more efficient or allow you to serve more people.

If you’ve done a good job of building a relationship with your donors, and you practice donor-centered fundraising, your donor will support you as often as they can and as often as you ask.

If your organization is one of your donor’s favorites (and if you’re doing your job well, it should be), they WANT to support you and see you be successful. They care about your mission and they know it takes resources for you to fulfill it.

And they will be a well that you can visit as often as is needed.

This article is part of the Mythbusters series.

Here’s a list of each of the articles in this series:

  1. Fundraising Myth: If You Build It They Will Come by Sandra Sims
  2. The Myth of the “Selfless Volunteer” by Tom Welsh
  3. Fundraising Myth: It’s Great to Be Cheap by Marc Pitman
  4. Advertising and Marketing Are Too Expensive by Jim Berigan
  5. The Myth of the Dried Up Well by Sandy Rees
  6. Myths About Foundation Funding by Aaron Atwood
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Posted on 23 April 2008

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