How to make a graceful exit

Donors are awesome! I really like them. All of them. We chat in person and on the phone, I’ve been to their houses, met their grandchildren, exchanged preserves, shared food and stories. They write me notes with their donations. I write them notes with their tax receipts. For the most part we really like each other.

During a recent conversation about ethics during an AFP Toronto Chapter Fundraising Fundamentals course I’m teaching at the moment, there were some sincere questions about the investment we fundraisers make in building relationships with donor and what should happen when we move onto another organization. The conversation was so intense that I thought it was perhaps worth talking about here.

HandshakeAs fundraisers, particularly if you work in major gifts, it is normal to become close to your donors. The ability to build good relationships with our donors is very important in this profession. When it is your time to leave what happens with the relationship you have built up with your donors? Should you make plans to stay in touch? Give them your new coordinates?

The simple answer is: NO. Absolutely not. This is not ‘your’ relationship. Our job is to build a relationship between the donor and the organization. We are the middle man.

Donors give because they love the cause. Not because they love you.

So when it is our time to move on how do we break up with our donors?

When I moved from my last job three years ago here are a couple of things we did.

  1. Send out a newsletter to all donors with an announcement from the Executive Director or President announcing my move and wishing me well.
  2. I personally wrote to individuals who are the most involved or highest level donors or those who have made multi year pledges.

Each letter was different but had the same core structure. Here is one example:

Dear ‘Bill’

Tell them why you are writing

It is with very mixed feelings that I’m writing to inform you that I’m leaving the ABC Charity. I’ve been presented with a great opportunity that I must take advantage of.

I have accepted a position with XYZ Charity. As such my last day in the office will be…

Tell them to keep donating

‘Bill’, your enthusiasm and support of our work is so very much appreciated. I do hope that it continues. There simply isn’t another organization doing the kind of work that ABC Charity. Your donations and involvement are very important.

Reassure them that the organization is in good shape
Because of people like you we have been able to do incredibly well exponentially increasing funding for programs delivered by the ABC Charity. The Foundation has solid leadership in place and excellent staff (copied above) to carry on much of the work.

Remind them of the specific work or action they are involved in
(this is also good for staff so the letter can be filed and the action items for this individual can be highlighted. Really helps with moves management)

I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to work with you more on XXX. Of course you are well positioned with Marie on one side and Justin on the other. Your great work will no doubt continue.

Be sincere and say goodbye

(there is no need to highlight where you are moving to)

I am deeply grateful for the opportunities afforded to me here and in particular your willingness to open your home and ask people to support this work too. I will remember the people and my time here with great fondness.

Yes moving on is a bit sad. Changes are bitter sweet. In order to improve the reputation of fundraising as a worth profession, each and every one of us has a responsibility to uphold the highest level of ethical standards as we carry on our work for a more just and fair society. We can start by making sure that our exits are just as graceful as our entrances.

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