Q.  You just had a major donor give quite a bit less than normal; tell me about that.

A.  We have a significant donor who gives twice a year. At the end of each year, I would meet with him and give him an update. For the last nine to ten years, he would send in a gift that was more than $50,000 each time. This year it came in at $15,000. I was grateful for the gift, but surprised at how it significantly different it was from years past. So I waited a month and asked him, but the first time I was not very specific; “it seems less than normal is everything ok?” approach.

At our banquet in May, this donor decided to not come and he didn’t make his second gift either. He dropped from an over $50,000 gift to $0 gift. I called after the banquet and asked if I could give him an update. We met and he explained that he still loved YFC, still wanted to give — he didn’t have a major issue with us — he just felt God leading him to give in other arenas.

Q. How did you feel when you realized that you had a donor give $85,000 less than previous years?

A.  If I am honest, I felt like a failure. It really was awful. It felt so personal. I realize it wasn’t, but it felt like “I am doing a bad job.”  It was a process for me to really see what God was doing in us through all this. And to realize that if this gift had been in there, we would have been well over budget; it was frustrating.

Q. How did you handle talking with this donor?

A.  I tried to maintain the relationship and affirm him for how much he’s blessed us in the past. The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel bad and alienate him from us. But I was pretty honest with him about how difficult the $85k difference in giving was for us. I explained that, but I succeeded in doing it in a way that wasn’t separating. To help with budgeting for the next year, he agreed to give $15,000 again so that we knew what to expect.

Q.  Entering the budget process, you’ve lost $85,000; what are the steps you are taking to plan for next year?

A.  Typically, we budget by looking at the year before and building our budget from there. It was difficult,  but we decided to make a budget based on the $85k drop. This year we created a realistic, but challenging financial goal for us.

To achieve this, we’re entering into a couple different campaigns. The first is much more intentional fundraising training and accountability with our staff.  In the past, we trained well, but then gave a lot of freedom; we haven’t had very consistent accountability.  This year we are adding coaching and higher accountability, including tighter deadlines and probation periods for staff who don’t hit the deadlines. 

Then we did a lot of cutting. We had honest conversations around sending letters and whether or not the investment was worth the cost.  We’re cutting personal support letters from being sent every month to every other month. We’re keeping our special year-end ask, but adjusting the expenses of our year-end campaign by sending personal hand-written thank you notes in lieu of a year-end gift to donors. We’re also cutting back on ministry expenses.

Q.  If you could go back a year and give yourself advice what would it be?

A.  I don’t think I could have done much different with this donor. We still have a very healthy relationship. If I could go back, I would have tried to use his gift more wisely instead of just depending on it to be there. Sometimes we feel like those big gifts can fix everything, but they can also ruin everything. We had that gift for nine years and we never got to a place where it was safe to lose it. I would have challenged my staff more to be raising their money, instead of saying we have the cash to cover if they didn’t. It’s a lot easier to replace the $25/month donor than a $100k/year donor.


Craig Muller is the Executive Director of Long Island Youth for Christ.

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