When the Funding Stops: Why Donors Become Ex-Donors

It is always disconcerting when new donors do not renew their contribution or a veteran donor ceases funding a nonprofit organization they have supported for many years. What accounts for the contributor’s decision to discontinue their support? Let’s look at some of the reasons donors cease funding organizations.

1. There are donors who make a one-time contribution to an organization because they were approached by someone they know to give the funds. Essentially, the contribution received was a favor to someone who has a tie to the nonprofit. In this situation there was never a connection made between the person who made the contribution and the organization.

There are also times when someone is approached via a telemarketing service and decides to provide support even though they do not know much, if anything, about the organization. There is either something about the presentation or the solicitor’s voice that has an impact on the person. Once the contribution is received and a computer generated thank-you letter is sent out, there is no further contact between the nonprofit and the donor.

In the first scenario, the organization committed a fatal error in not developing a direct connection to the donor. Yes, the contribution was stimulated by someone who was involved and committed to the agency. However, the leadership of the nonprofit might have taken the connection to the donor for granted and did not cultivate a relationship with the new donor.

2. A lack of response to a donor’s inquiries can often lead to a ceasing of support. Often a donor will read something about either the organization or about the challenges the nonprofit is responding to in the community. Occasionally, a contributor will either send an e-mail or call the nonprofit to find out more information or to respond to an appeal for financial support and/or for volunteers to assist in their work. When the agency does not respond in a timely fashion, the contributor may be disappointed or offended and this can lead to a decrease in financial support or at worst, a ceasing of all support. This kind of neglect signals a real lack of understand as to how to maintain sustained support from funders.

3. Many times the strongest supporters of an organization wind up serving on the board of directors. They feel that if they are so committed to the organization they would like to do more for the organization than just contribute funds. Out of their desire to advance the programs and services of the nonprofit they will respond positively to the request to join the board of directors. However, once they are on the board and they experience meetings that are less than stimulating and not engaging they will be completely turned off not only to the board but also to the agency.

This can happen in a number of ways. The donor serving on the board and can find himself without any specific responsibility for the governance or development of the organization. If he feels the meetings are a complete waste of time or the discussions are endless before any action is taken by the board, then it may weaken his commitment to the organization.

When this happens he may not find any reason to continue supporting the organization because he realizes the disparity between the governance process and the services the organization provides.

When a donor is enthusiastic about an organization and they want to become more involved out of their commitment to the purposes and services of the agency, then there are expectations about what it would be like to be part of the volunteer leadership on the board of directors. Before inviting a contributor to join the board, the chief executive officer, the professional responsible for resource development and the chairperson of the board must think carefully about where the person will be placed and what responsibilities he will be given. When the fit is right it can make a person more committed and a stronger supporter of the agency.

Another thought about the donor who becomes a member of the board is what happens when his ideas are not accepted by the chief executive officer or the other board members. A committed donor who wants to serve in a leadership position may have certain views and ideas about how to develop the organization. What happens when he finds himself disagreeing and in conflict with the other members of the board. He is of a different mind on a variety of issues and the conflicts can push him away instead of bringing him closer to the organization.

These are a few of the reasons contributors and donors may cease their support of nonprofits and in future posting, additional issues will be explored and discussed. If you have such experiences and wish to share them please feel free to post your thoughts and comments.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.