Friday, August 28, 2009

How to breakup with your donors

Lake Simcoe has been very good to me. I have been very good for Lake Simcoe. I have learned a lot. So have they. Together we achieved many great milestones and even won a couple of awards. With mixed feelings I know that now is the right time to move on.

So when the opportunity came to work with Ontario Nature as their Director of Development it seemed a natural and exciting progression. The right move at the right time.

There was just a little problem. 'My' donors. I really like them. All of them. We chat in person and on the phone. I've been to their houses, shared wine at their cottage, met their grandchildren. They write me notes with their donations. I write them notes with their tax receipts.

Some of 'my' donors are even helping 'me' find other donors. One even stymied me by asking a prospect for $50,000 at a cultivation breakfast meeting - and got it! (a blog for another day) Another is passionate about helping to get more monthly donors and with a little support is bringing in hundreds of new dollars a month. (another blog)

When you become so close to your donors and know it is your time to leave what happens with the relationship? 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. We are Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins swoops into the Banks family at just the right time. She is friendly and yet firm, provides structure, love, warmth and humour.

When the winds change - she graciously makes her exit and the Banks family is stronger for her having been there and moves onto their next thing. Kite flying.

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

I recently tweeted that I was writing break up letters to donors and a couple people asked me how on earth I would write something like that? So instead of just sharing my opinion. (worth what you paid for it!) I will share with you what worked for me this week:

Next week our newsletter is going out to all constituents with a letter from our President announcing the move and wishing me well. So at the end of this week 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 Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation. I've been presented with a great opportunity that I must take advantage of.

I have accepted a position with Ontario Nature as their Director of Development. As such my last day in the office will be September 4, 2009.

Tell them to keep donating

'Bill', your enthusiasm and support of this foundation is so very much appreciated. I do hope that it continues. For Lake Simcoe – there simply isn’t another environmental organization doing the kind of work this Foundation/LSRCA is. Your donations and involvement are very important.

Reassure them that the organization is still solid

Because of people like you we have been able to do incredibly well building the Foundation and exponentially increasing funding for programs delivered by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. 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 building relationships at sunny bay. 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

I am deeply grateful for the opportunities afforded to me as the Executive Director 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.

Most Sincerely,


Kimberley MacKenzie, CFRE
Executive Director
Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation

Yes it is a little bit sad. Changes are bitter sweet. A really cool thing happens though - your donors write you back. Thank you for your work and wish you well.

I remember feeling sad for Mary Poppins when she watched from the window as the Banks family went off kite flying. But we knew that wasn't the end of the story but rather the beginning of the next one.

There are new relationships waiting for me at Ontario Nature and honestly - I very much look forward to each one of them. For the next couple of weeks I'll just enjoy the pause in between.

Thank you for spending time here.


  1. Lovely post. You're absolutely right.
    All the best in the new role.


  2. Thank you Rachel! Great to hear from you here.

  3. An awesome post - and one that speaks to an issue that I don't think I've ever seen addressed before. It also speaks to the importance of relationship-building and the TIME that you've put into developing those relationships - which can be difficult with organizations hiring 5 development directors in 3 years.

    I love the Mary Poppins analogy!