Retooling Your Organization’s Approach to Resource Development: A Review of The Donor Lifecycle Map: A Model for Fundraising Success

By Stephen G. Donshik

(The Donor Lifecycle Map: A Model for Fundraising Success by Deborah Kaplan Polivy, Charity Channel Press, 2017, Nashville)

In 2014, Dr. Deborah Kaplan Polivy wrote a book about the donor lifecycle (see a review of Donor Cultivation and the Donor Lifecycle Map), in which she presented a creative way to build and strengthen nonprofit organizations’ approach to resource development. In her new book she offers a conceptual understanding of what is necessary to build a successful fundraising campaign and provides vignettes from her professional experience to illustrate how to put these concepts into action to achieve success.

For those of you who missed her 2014 book, Dr. Polivy provides an excellent summary of the donor lifecycle map in the first chapter, connecting it to the development of a strategic plan to increase the organization’s financial resources. Throughout the book she stresses the importance of focusing on donors’ evolving connection to the nonprofit and not just on the amount of their gifts. Contributions are always a reflection of donors’ relationship to both the organization and the other people who are involved in it as dedicated professional staff and as committed volunteers.

We sometimes forget that “people give to people,” and this idea is underscored in every chapter as the author emphasizes the importance of strengthening relationships between board members and the people they know who have some connection to the purposes and programs of the nonprofit. In every chapter of the book, Dr. Polivy stresses how the organization cannot rely on professional fundraisers alone to successfully raise sufficient funds. Financial resource development is all about increasing donations through strengthening donors’ relationship to the organization, expanding their interests and passions, and encouraging them to stretch to provide more financial support.

By following the donor lifecycle map, the organization is able to simultaneously increase the size of the donor base and encourage individual donors to increase their commitment – both of time and money. This means there needs to be a dual focus on attracting new donors and strengthening the commitment of existing donors.

There also needs to be a simultaneous focus on those donors who continue to provide support year after year and on moving other donors to higher levels of contributions – and to making sure this process continues from year to year. An organization cannot take any contributor for granted. Yet too often it receives and records the yearly gift without further cultivating donors to interest them in increasing their contribution beyond a standard symbolic figure. It is essential that the organization not accept an annual gift and fail to interact further with donors; rather it needs to ensure that donors feel their gift is part of an ongoing commitment to the nonprofit.

It is necessary to build a development team made up of both professionals and volunteers who are continually in contact with and communicating with the various segments of campaign contributors. The more skillful the team, the greater the likelihood the donors will be ready to make a very significant planned gift, through a will or trust, or to provide major funds for a building campaign. As you read through the book, you will not only understand this principle with greater clarify but you will also benefit from Dr. Polivy’s experience and wisdom in implementing this approach in a variety of actual different situations.

There is no simple formula for achieving financial sustainability, but this book demystifies the process. Dr. Polivy provides action steps that can be adapted to almost any voluntary organization and its unique culture and personalities. The approach suggested in the book is very user friendly and will enable the executive staff and senior volunteer leadership to maintain their organization’s committed donors and have them not only continue their support but become major or stretch donors (in the author’s words).

Of course, as Dr. Polivy stresses in the book, having contributors not only continue their support but also become major or stretch donors will only happen through the real investment of involved and committed volunteer leadership on the board, in the campaign, and in the development committee planning this strategic approach. Although we read more and more about volunteers who seem to be growing weary of the nonprofit organizational process, we also know that those who are able to participate in a real process become more involved and more committed. You cannot give lip service to people’s involvement in an organization. If you are willing to risk providing authentic leadership opportunities, you will produce people who will not only become more committed to the organization but will be more willing to recruit others to demonstrate their commitment.

The final chapters of the book provide three case studies demonstrating how the approach has been successful in a health care organization, in reengaging donors, and in a community foundation. Every nonprofit organization’s board and resource development committee could benefit from integrating the donor lifecycle map into its strategic resource development planning process. At the very least this book will give professional and volunteer leadership an opportunity to consider a creative way of strengthening the financial sustainability of their organizations.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a retired lecturer at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School and occasional contributor to