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Excess Baggage: Not Just for Airlines

Donors have incredibly long memories. Oftentimes, this is a good thing. Sometimes, not so much.

As a fundraiser, you’re likely to come across old baggage now and then. Events, attitudes, impressions that you had nothing to do with, but that come back to haunt you nevertheless.

Do any of these sound familiar?:

A failed campaign 

This can be fairly benign. For example, perhaps your organization simply raised less than it intended, but still managed to create something good. Or, it can be disastrous if donors made gifts but the promised result was not delivered. A really big failure can haunt your organization for decades.

Poor stewardship

A donor – or worse, a group of donors – never received the kind of acknowledgement or recognition they deserved.

Difficult staff interactions

Perhaps a former employee alienated donors with a cavalier attitude, or rude behavior.

Bad press

Whether the reporting was true or not, people remember.

Urban legends

AKA drastic misconceptions of what you actually do.

Don’t let all this baggage weigh you down! Here are a few simple reminders to help you prepare and respond with grace:


Get out there and listen to your donors. Hold listening sessions, meet one-on-one, do a donor survey. You may be surprised – things that you think are baggage may actually be old history for them. Even if they are carrying around some old resentments or perceptions, they will appreciate the chance to express themselves. They may even have constructive ideas that you can use.


If you know your organization is suffering from excess baggage, get out ahead of it with strong, positive messages that educate people about your work. Take control of your brand and your story.


You don’t have to go it alone. Have board members, program staff, and the executive director help you with donor stewardship and cultivation. Give them specific assignments and watch them shine!


Acknowledge the past, but shift attention to where you’re headed. It’s all about the vision and your shared values. In other words, keep your eyes – and the donors’ – on the prize.

And, last but not least…


If donor stewardship is the baggage you’re dealing with, do your future replacement a favor by making sure they have all the information they need to serve donors well.

I cannot promise you that people will forget your organization’s transgressions, but they will very likely forgive them eventually! And, that will happen faster with some proactive work on your part.

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