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Treating Donors with Respect

This is part of a special series, brought to you by the Standards for Excellence Institute, to provide nonprofit leaders with a brief nonprofit governance and management tip weekly over the course of 2020. We hope these short tips will be helpful to you and the nonprofits you serve. If you have suggestions for future topics, please forward these to

Earlier this week, I answered my home phone and a paid fundraiser working for a nonprofit that my family and I have supported for years was on the line. Despite our past support, the call was a challenging one where the caller informed me that she was interested in speaking with my spouse about this institution (and was not interested in speaking with me). This really rubbed me the wrong way because my husband and I both have the same connection to the organization and because I coordinate much of our family’s charitable giving. When the conversation was over, I felt intensely disrespected and belittled due to the comments that the paid fundraiser made to me.


Nonprofits need to do all that they can do to treat donors respectfully and professionally. The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector  states that “solicitations should be free from undue influence or excessive pressure, and should be respectful of the needs and interests of the donor or potential donor.” 


How does your nonprofit ensure that you are respectful of these needs and interests?  What can you do to ensure that those raising money are your behalf are positive and helpful ambassadors for your nonprofit organization?  With solicitations flooding our inboxes, I heartily encourage you to include yourself on the list of individuals who receive them (all written, verbal, and virtual!). Put yourself in the position of a donor who may not interact with your organization daily or even monthly.  Is it possible that your solicitations may be considered disrespectful, distasteful, or offensive? Take the time to test your messages with your audiences and make adjustments as needed.

More information is available in the Standards for Excellence educational packet on Fundraising, Solicitation, Acceptance of Gifts, and Working with Donors which includes discussions and helpful resources on: Donor relationships and donor privacy, donor intent, acceptance of gifts, fundraising policies, as well as online fundraising.

This educational resource packet and the full series of all packets  - including sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management - can be accessed by contacting a licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.


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About the Author: Amy Coates Madsen

Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-two years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management. She has held positions at the Trenton lobbying firm of the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and the Public Policy Liaison Unit at the world headquarters of Catholic Relief Services. Amy received her Master of Arts in Policy Studies degree from the Johns Hopkins University – Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore, Maryland; and her Bachelors degree from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Amy is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Amy serves on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT). Amy is a former member of the Disaster Action Team of the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross and is qualified to provide disaster preparedness training to children and adults. She has also served as the former President of Central Maryland CAN TOO and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the largest United Methodist Church in Baltimore City. She serves on the board of her children’s preschool PTA and is a volunteer with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Amy is currently leading an effort to establish an endowment for the Virginia Tech University Honors Program.