The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Ask Andrea – Fresh Perspectives on Fundraising

AskAndrea.inddHello, and welcome to the first blog post in which I answer your questions about fundraising! I'll select interesting or frequent or thought-provoking questions each month and write my answers to them in this forum on the third Thursday of every month.

Do you have a question to ask me? Email me, Andrea Kihlstedt, at for your chance to be featured in the column! (Unless you’d like me to mention you in person, I’ll change all names to protect the innocent!)

Now, let's get to the first questions:

Our debut question is from “Lisa,” who wrote me awhile back for advice on how to handle an inappropriate invitation from a major donor.

My agency recently received an unsolicited $25,000 check from a man who had come to one of our programs! I thanked him right away. The next day he sent me an email asking me to dinner. He very specifically asked that we get together alone.

I feel really uncomfortable about this, but I don't want to alienate a generous donor – help! Am I misreading his intention?

Hi Lisa,

First, I want to validate your discomfort. This is not a benign request, and you're not misreading it. As to how to handle this tricky situation, here’s what I suggest.

Write back and say you're not available for dinner, but would like to meet for breakfast or lunch. When you meet, keep the main discussion focused on your organization – but be sure to mention your boyfriend as early as possible! This donor is a sophisticated man, and he'll probably recognize your response for the gentle, polite, “Thanks, but no thanks,” it is. If he doesn’t, you’ll have to take stronger defensive action. But start this way.

Sadly, this won't be the last time you find yourself in a similar situation. Over the years I've chosen to be flattered rather than angry (unless the donor is way out of line) and turn the poor, misguided and inappropriate guys away gently.

BUT – and this is a big one – if a donor ever makes you feel unsafe, tell your executive director or supervisor immediately. And be sure to document every interaction with that donor.

Yes, we want to leave our donors feeling great about making a gift – but proper stewardship is the only “happy ending” they have any right to expect!

Our next question is from Kim, a major gifts officer in Canada:

I’m coming into a campaign that is finished, the building is completed (by more than a year) but unfortunately, I’ve found that there has been no reporting to and very little thanking of donors. I’d like to create a “final report” to send to them on the campaign, the building, challenges and successes but not sure how to do it, particularly since there’s been so little communication and it’s been such a long time. I’d like to throw a “donor love” party in the space as we unveil the recognition wall, but I know that I need to get information out to the donors and thanks them beforehand.

I’ve never worked on a capital campaign and am unsure of best practices. What should I do?

First, Kim – congratulations and welcome to the world of capital campaigns where the opportunities to thank donors are just about endless! Now on to your question:

You're absolutely right. You do need to thank your donors and let them know just what their gifts have accomplished! Given that such a long time has passed, we recommend that you send a warm, personal letter. Introduce yourself, and thank the donors for their gifts. If time permits, follow each letter with a phone call – at least to your lead and major donors.

You might include a save the date to your “donor love” party as a P.S. in the letter, thus getting the most bang for your postal buck.

After you've connected with each donor, then send the final capital campaign report. And make the report a compelling story – tell them about your tears, your triumphs, and don't forget lots of lovely pictures! Be sure to include a personal note with each report. If you can, get your board members to hand write these.

Finally, here are the general rules for communicating with your capital campaign donors:

Report back early and often! Your donors – particularly your lead gift donors, but also your major gift donors – are your primary stakeholders. They deserve to know what’s going on!

  • Keep your communications warm and inviting. Share your setbacks, your successes, and any funny incidents that happen along the way. Give your donors that warm and fuzzy feeling that we all get when we feel deeply appreciated!
  • Consider a special capital campaign newsletter, or at least a special e-newsletter (depending on your audience) to keep them in the loop.
  • Don’t stop communicating with your donors. Once you’ve reconnected and built a relationship with your donors, keep going. For example, you might pass along to your donors the thank you notes you get from new people you're able to serve.

Remember, your goal is to create and build a relationship with these people, not just with their money! My partner Gail Perry likes to say, “Treat your donors like partners, not pockets.” And that’s great advice. Everything you do to steward your donors now will pay off in future gifts, and, if you're like most of us who work in fundraising, you'll have a great time getting to know them.

Ask Andrea a question by email at:


Andrea Kihlstedt, author and co-founder, 

Andrea Kihlstedt combines 30 years of experience in fundraising with her lifelong interest in psychology to bring her readers and clients a fresh and highly effective approach to raising money. You can learn more from Andrea's work here:



Topics: Fundraising