Building Relationships
through Giving Clubs

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

This past week, Giving USA released its annual report on charitable giving in America. In case you missed it, the report stated that for the first time ever donations from all sources reached the record level of $306 billion in 2007.

While there have been numerous articles analyzing these findings-including the data that revealed that growth in individual giving was stagnant after several years of steady increase-the fact remains that individual donations account for the largest portion of charitable gifts.

Nonetheless, in this challenging economic environment, nonprofit organizations need to be highly responsive in their relationships with donors to avoid a downturn in contributions.

But how do you maintain relationships with donors, and encourage them to donate more, especially if you have limited face-to-face contact with them? One way is through giving clubs. Giving clubs are defined contributions levels-often named–which offer specific benefits for the donor. For example, The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC has giving clubs that include: $100 for the Congress and Culture Watchers Club; $250 for Patron membership; and $1,000 for the President’s Club, and and so on.

Giving clubs help enhance your relationships with donors in a number of ways. They:

  • Give donors the opportunity to identify and engage with your organization as “members” rather than simply as financial contributors;
  • Promote donor loyalty;
  • Offer donors a progression for their giving and a reason to progress;
  • Make the gift decision easier by allowing potentials supporters to select a level of support that best meets their ability and interests; and
  • Hold us accountable to continuously interact with donors to fulfill the defined benefits of the giving club.

If you already have giving clubs, it may be a good time to review the levels and the benefits. Here are some recommendations:

  •  Don’t create too many levels…or too few. If you have too many levels, it will make your clubs difficult to administer. If you have too few, you will give donors little reason to increase their support. For example, a donor who is part of your $1,000 giving club may be unlikely to increase beyond this amount if the next giving level is $10,000.
  • Consider naming your giving clubs with titles relevant to your organization. A public policy institution, for instance, may utilize names that correlate to their work: Scholars Club, Experts Club, Freedom Circle. For higher dollar clubs, consider prestigious-sounding names such as Benefactor, Chairman’s Circle, Founders’ Club, etc.
  • Connect each giving club to specific benefits. This is an area where you can be creative. Benefits may include: copies of your newsletter; special email updates; books or other publications; regular updates; personal visits with the organization’s president, vice-president or other key staff; invitations to special events; priority seating at events; recognition in your annual report or newsletter; invitations to board retreats; invitations to visit your headquarters, etc. Just remember that the higher the gift level, the greater the benefit should be.
  • Provide benefits that you know you will be able to fulfill. To avoid a fulfillment nightmare, consider the products that your organization already creates (e.g. books, reports, videos, etc.) and determine if they are appropriate for use as donor benefits. As salespeople always remind us: “Under-promise and over-deliver.”
  • Make sure the benefit doesn’t exceed the value of the gift. Some donors become offended if they receive an expensive-looking gift in return for a donation. They may wonder: Is this how my charitable contribution was spent? Remember, most donors give because they are motivated by a belief in your mission, not because they are getting a coffee cup with your logo on it.
  • Utilize the giving clubs to ask for regular upgrades in support. Make sure that each of your appeals offers a creative case to move donors to step up to the next level of support.

If you hold regular events, giving clubs can offer another benefit. They will give your donors the opportunity to interact and network with other donors. The relationships that they build with fellow supporters as well as with your staff  may compel  them to not only maintain their support but also increase it over time.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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