7 Donor Development Mistakes to Avoid

7 Donor Development Mistakes to Avoid

Donor development is a lot of work. In order to fund your ministries and pursue new projects, not only do you need to engage the donors you already have, but you also have to actively nurture new donors.

That’s a tall order. But doing it right is crucial, and you can’t afford to be “too busy” for donor development. When churches don’t have a donor development strategy, they make mistakes. And those mistakes can make the difference between reaching budget goals and falling short, or having to wait until next year (again) to launch your new ministry.

And since the way we use and think about money is so intertwined with our spiritual health, donor development mistakes can have spiritual consequences for your church as well.

To help you stay on top of donor development, we’ve put together seven mistakes you should avoid.

1. Not following up with donors

At some point, you’ve probably experienced what it’s like to do something thoughtful for someone and never hear, “Thank you.” (Especially if you have teenagers.) People who make big donations to your church probably aren’t expecting you to show up at their house to acknowledge them. But if your staff doesn’t follow up with donors at all, that’s a mistake.

It leaves your donors wondering if you even received their donation, can make them feel like it didn’t matter, and it’s a wasted opportunity. This is your chance to make people feel appreciated, show them the impact of their giving, and encourage them to strengthen their connection to your church.

2. Showing favoritism to the wealthy

You want big donors to feel like their generosity is valued by your church. But at the same time, the Bible outright forbids showing favoritism to the wealthy (James 2:1–13), so you need to be cautious about how you honor generosity. It’s all too easy to meet an extravagant gift with extravagant appreciation. You need to find ways to acknowledge big donors without making people who give less feel like they’re valued less.

3. Doing everything manually

Face-to-face communication is important. And handwritten notes or personal emails can be a great way to make people feel appreciated. But that doesn’t scale very well. And inevitably, if you try to do everything manually, something will fall through the cracks.

Automated emails should absolutely play a role in your donor development strategy. They don’t have to replace the other things you do to nurture donors, but everyone who gives should automatically get a personal thank-you email from your staff, along with a series of messages about why their donation matters, what your church is doing through their generosity, and how they can continue to be involved.

Automation doesn’t mean sacrificing personalization, either. You can still use people’s names and send them from a real person at your church. You can even make your email specific to the fund someone gave to. And since your email campaigns can scale with your church, this ensures that every donor gets personally acknowledged, regardless of how large their donation was.

4. Not inviting donors to get involved in other ways

It’s easy to assume your biggest donors are some of the people who are most involved in your church. They’ve invested the most, right? But you might be surprised at how many of your major donors aren’t attending a small group, volunteering in a ministry, or participating in other events.

Part of your donor development strategy should include increasing (and strengthening) the connections major donors have to your church. Their donation is a sign they want to be a part of what you’re doing. Show them other ways they can get involved.

5. Ignoring the benefits of recurring giving

Recurring giving is the best way to give. Period. It’s the most convenient for your donors because they don’t have to think about it, and it’s ideal for you because it makes giving more predictable. And that’s even more important with the donors your church depends on the most. If they miss a month or two, that could have a big impact on your ability to do ministry.

So your donor development strategy should include nudges toward recurring giving—perhaps even in your giving receipts or email post script.

6. Forgetting to use your ministry leaders

Your ministry leaders can play several key roles in your donor development strategy. They can:

Build relationships with people who could become key donors
Identify some of your most compelling stories to share with donors
Help acknowledge the importance of your donors’ generosity

When you have a single person or small team dedicated to donor development, it can lead to tunnel vision. Your ministry leaders may forget how much donor development affects what they do. And your donor development staff may forget that there are opportunities for collaboration.

Donor development is ultimately about relationships. And no one person should have to develop every donor relationship—even if donor development falls under their responsibilities.

7. Assuming your donors know all about your church

Most people aren’t going to give thousands of dollars toward your latest campaign the first time they attend a service. Your biggest donors probably aren’t strangers to your church. They have reason to trust you’ll use their resources wisely.

But that doesn’t mean they’re familiar with all your ministries and programs, or that they know all your staff.

Part of your donor development strategy should include an intentional effort to educate donors about your church. These people have made a big commitment to support your ministry. And hopefully, as they get a fuller picture of who you are and what you do, they’ll want to support you even more.

What’s your donor development strategy?

Donor development isn’t a responsibility you can take lightly. Your staff needs to thoughtfully consider the best ways to nurture new donors and engage the people who your budget depends on. This is about maximizing your ministry potential and honoring the generosity of your church. So take the time to get it right, and don’t let donor development feel like an afterthought.

Ryan Nelson

Ryan was a volunteer youth leader with Young Life for eight years. Now he teaches people about the Bible on OverviewBible.com. He lives in Bellingham, Washington with his wife and three sons.