Giving Societies: The Field of Dreams Myth

giving societies- the field of dreams myth

“If you brand it… they will come.”


There is no magical key to donor engagement.

If you brand it, they won’t come.

Or, at least, it doesn’t guarantee that they will. Giving societies can be an amazing way to engage donors, to make them feel part of a community. There are some giving societies out there that are so strong and full of engaged donors, so it’s a great “tool” in fundraising.

However – it’s not always the right tool. And again, it’s not a magical key.

Let’s say you’re starting a mid-level giving program.

A lot of organizations start the process with a giving society. They create a name, a brand, letterhead, and a great brochure.

And then they sit back and wait for the donors to join the club!

And they wait… and wait… and wait…

And the donors don’t come.

Too often as fundraisers we’re motivated by what makes most sense to us internally. By what’s easiest administratively. By what seems like a quick, cheap strategy.

“We can’t feasibly call all our donors and find out what they want and need. But it’d be really convenient to have a name to refer to our mid-level donors as, so let’s call them the 1986 Society. The donors will identify with that!” 

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, written by a total heroine of mine: RuPaul Charles.

You can call me he. You can call me she. you can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don't care! Just as long as you call me.

That’s RuPaul’s attitude towards what pronouns you choose to refer to him with. The truth is that he doesn’t care! What he cares more about is that you call him! Acknowledge him!

Donors are the same! We spend too much time thinking about the “other stuff” – the giving societies, internal naming conventions, letterhead – and not nearly enough time acknowledging the donors themselves.

And maybe if we spent more time on that, we’d find out more about what the donors actually want.

Maybe they DO want a giving society, a group to be part of. A sense of being a VIP. Access to behind-the-scenes at your charity.

Or maybe they DON’T want a giving society. Maybe they won’t identify with a separate, special brand. Maybe they’d prefer you spent more time on the mailings they receive; add more content, give them more giving opportunities that inspire them.

The truth is we can’t know until we ask. And donors love to be asked!

Don’t look for the easy way out.

Give your donors the #donorlove they deserve!

Call a donor today to find out what they do and don’t want from you, and let me know what you find out!


Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Giving Societies… What Gives?!

I am in program analysis / program planning mode for my Leadership Giving program in my new role, and with that comes a lot of thought and reflection… what is a leadership gift? What makes someone a leadership donor? What needs to happen in order for me to consider moving a donor into major gift territory?  I find the process energizing and exciting, but it brings up some tough questions.  One of those tough questions is:

Do donors care about giving societies???

As I plan the year ahead for the Leadership Giving program, I’m considering whether it would be effective to create a concrete leadership-level giving society.  The thing that makes this consideration tough is whether giving societies only mean something internally and the donor doesn’t really care.  Would a giving society strengthen a culture of philanthropy?  Would donors who make it in the society care, and really identify as part of that society?  Would a society make someone stretch their giving to a new level so that they can be part of something?

When giving societies are effective (because sometimes they really are), why are they effective?  Is it when they’re really established and have been around a while?  Is it when being at a certain level means certain perks, like invitations to events and/or some kind of tangible benefit like a pin or a special name tag?  Does the giving society have to equal some kind of prestige?

If a giving society has to be well-established in order to mean something, then is it in our best interest to start them if it will take such a long time to establish them?  Will it be worth the time and resources to push on until, say, the 20-year mark where it starts to mean something?

Or do people care about these things any more? Do giving societies promote giving and/or a culture of philanthropy, or do we just like to think they do? Do we like it internally because we have an easy way to refer to certain levels or giving and certain donors?

Regardless of all this, can we still refer to a group in a specific way in mailings? For example, whether there’s a society or not, can I refer to my donors as leadership donors in a direct mail piece? If they don’t already identify with that label and there’s no concrete giving society, can I still use it to give them a sense of their being special?


What do you think??? Are giving societies worth our time and thought?


Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Who to include…???

My five or so years in “the biz” of fundraising has led me to believe that who to include in the annual report is a hot topic.

Paper isn’t cheap, so you want to use the pages of your publication wisely. On top of that, the annual report is much more than a report – it’s a tool. It’s a tool to encourage those who gave to give again; those who didn’t give to give; and those who gave some to give more.

With all that in mind, what do you do?

My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is to include everyone.

Yes, absolutely there are limits to this, but if you can – include everyone.

As a young person, I focus a lot of thought, research, and attention to young people and their capacity to give, their knowledge of philanthropy, and what drives them to make a donation.

So when I think about the annual report, I think about a young alumnus (in the case of educational fundraising). I think about a young alumnus making a gift of $25 and thinking, “This is all I can manage at this point. I hope it can make a difference.”

And of course, if the alumnus told that to us fundraisers, we’d say, “Absolutely it makes a difference!  Every dollar counts!”  But then what if they look at the annual report and see that only people who made gifts of $1,000+ are listed? What will they feel about their $25 gift then?  Will they think it matters?

And, of course, this doesn’t only apply to young donors – it applies to anyone under that $1,000 mark.

Yes, the idea of excluding those who gave under $1,000 is to encourage them to give that bit more to get them in the report. But let’s look back at what I said the annual report is a tool for: to encourage those who gave to give again; those who didn’t give to give; and those who gave some to give more.

How do we encourage those who gave to give again?  We recognize their gift by listing them in the report.

How do we encourage those who didn’t give to give? We show every single gift from $0.01+ in the report so that those who didn’t give see that they’ll get recognition no matter what they give.

How do we encourage those who gave some to give more? This is the only one for which perhaps only including gifts of $1,000+ encourages giving. But there’s another way – we all have them – giving societies. The donor who gave $1-$999 could easily be encouraged to give more when they see if they give $1,000, they’ll be part of another society. No, it’s not a surefire way to encourage a larger gift next year, but it could work.

Or – here’s a thought: On the topic of young donors, do we create a lower threshold of giving in order for this group to get listed in the report? Make it relative to age and stage? It’s something to consider.

But as far as I can see, you can’t lose by listing every gift in the annual report.  What do you think?  Do you passionately disagree?  Share your thoughts!  I can’t wait to see the debate!

Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising since 2007.

Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email