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Fundraising Tips: The Art of Setting and Changing Giving Levels

Resource Center - Foundation

(Sept. 22, 2008) It seems easy on the surface—set up a series of donation amounts and develop a plan for recognizing donors as they reach each level. However, adding to or changing giving levels can be dangerous terrain if you don’t do your homework.

Susan F. Rice, Ed.D., ACFRE, principal of SFR Consulting in Los Angeles, offers advice on setting giving levels that challenge donors and group them effectively, and explains how to smoothly transition donors to a new structure without causing a stir.

To start, select a group of active supporters to your nonprofit, including current donors, and have them generate the initial groupings. Have them mull over how best to group donors, paying attention to the reactions they predict fellow donors will have to the new levels.

Volunteers may foresee issues or consider things that you did not. Volunteer engagement lengthens the time this process takes but can provide key perspectives. Get them involved in the fun part—naming the levels in line with the mission or history of the institution.

It is important to do your homework here first so volunteers don’t start setting levels that are unrealistic or don’t jibe with the current levels of your donors. See at what levels current donors cluster by looking at the size of all recent gifts on a spreadsheet. Sort for a certain donation range and see what number of people fit into that range.

Ranges with very high numbers of donors will need to be narrowed, and likewise ranges with too few will need to be widened. Not everyone will fit neatly into the level that you set. Those donors can be encouraged to reach the next level.

Of course, benefits are important too, and this is another area where volunteers can help you, but you don’t want them to go overboard. Organizations should be absolutely sure that recognitions are structured so that each level offers increasingly more benefits to donors.

Also, leave options open for recognizing future larger gifts not part of your current ranges. Don’t plan on simply dreaming up an expensive special event for donors who break current levels, rather incorporate this into your original plan. Setting numeric levels and proper recognition at each level requires careful staff analysis.

Staff should have final word once volunteers have given their proposal.

Changing Giving Levels

Changing your giving groups and the gift levels needed for each recognition can be tricky. It’s another important time to work with senior volunteers to get a sense of how donors and supporters might react. Some additional ideas to consider:

  • Give advance notice. Think through the ramifications for donors and give them notice and a brief rationale for the shift. Do not change levels in a piecemeal fashion, instead change all levels at once. Don’t change levels frequently—no more than every five to seven years. That means, though, that you’ll want to increase the levels by large increments, accounting for future needs and setting healthy goals.
  • Transition donors whose level will change. Current donors should be given the option to remain at their current named level for another year if they give a multi-year (i.e. two to three year) pledge. This rewards them for past generosity instead of dropping them immediately from a named range.
  • Budget accordingly. You can expect to lose some donors on account of the shift. Explain to senior executives that income may go down some the first year, but will likely level out the next year increase, setting higher giving totals for the long run with the new levels.

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