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Overly Demanding Donors - Some Sage Advice

by Lorri Greif

It's a thin line that development professionals walk when establishing comfortable limits in interactions with donors and prospects - even as we try to get them to tell us everything and anything about themselves. We know that learning more about donors and prospects adds to our ability as development professionals - the more we know, the easier it is to help donors make gifts that work for them as well as our charity. But be sure you are comfortable as a relationship progresses.

Naturally, as part of the cultivation and stewardship process, we try to be informative, considerate, patient, friendly and helpful. After all, our donors are also our ambassadors and making them happy about our charity and staff is all part of the development process.

Generally speaking, this does not include:

  • Sending out an exorbitant number of notifications regarding a small token tribute gift;

  • Helping donors move from their home (even if they donated it to your charity);

  • Calling a very long list of strangers to see if they're coming to a private birthday party and suggest they make birthday gifts to your charity;

  • Picking up someone from the airport (unless you're planning to solicit this "captive audience" in the car);

  • Chauffeuring donors to events you're not also personally attending;

  • Back-dating gift receipts (also not legal);

  • Wpending an hour on the phone, daily, with the same caller (no matter how lonely);

  • Stopping what you're doing to attend to a minor request that can normally wait;

  • And anything else that donors or prospects may unthinkingly demand that has little or nothing to do with charitable intent.

At some time in your career you will find yourself dealing with situations involving an overly demanding donor or two (or three, etc.). Some are perfectly lovely people who do not realize that your time is already stretched to the limit and some are less aware individuals who may have misguided perceptions of what is appropriate, and some are just incredibly demanding. Regardless, all have to be dealt with in a way that hopefully keeps them happy ambassadors but doesn't intrude on you professionally or personally.

There is a famous line from the late poet laureate Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall, which reads "good fences make good neighbors." As development professionals, we can also say that establishing reasonable and realistic perimeters and barriers make good donor/prospect relations.

Always keep in mind that charitable intent is paramount in every situation. By maintaining a professional mindset, we can more easily see which donor actions are truly gift related and which are simply over-the-top. If you stand on the side of the "fence" of fundraising professional, you should be able to build solid relationships and not get caught up in uncomfortable situations.

Of course, you may truly want to help a donor out but be careful of the tone you set. A polite decline to an outrageous request, or vice versa, can set the pattern from the start. You can also toss the ball back over the fence by suggesting a way to "outsource" their request to a more reasonable venue, such as a messenger service, taxi service, personal assistant, etc. Be sympathetic to the request but handle your response carefully. If a problem develops, you may need the assistance and advice of a more senior person in your organization. If you are the senior person, seek a board member's help.

As the professional development person, you really are the one who can control the relationship, at least when it comes to overly demanding donors.

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About the Author:

Lorri M. Greif, CFRE, is president of Breakthrough Philanthropy, Inc., a fundraising consulting firm specializing in creating and growing planned giving campaigns. With more than 20 years in the nonprofit community, Lorri has the experience of a seasoned nonprofit fundraiser coupled with the knowledge of a professional consultant. For additional information, contact Lorri at or visit

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