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Taking Donors With You

Being a successful fundraising professional means you must build good relationships with donors and maintain those connections. Often times, that initial connections builds into a deeper friendship. What happens to those donor relationships when you leave your current organization for another nonprofit?

According to fundraising best practices, those donors must stay with your former organization. Now, while we understand this standard, I often see examples of stretching this practice. How many of you have been asked during the interview process, “Are you bringing donors with you?” Or “How many donors will follow you here?”

Who Owns the Donors?

Both of these instances are wrong because we as fundraisers don’t own those donors lists or confidential information. But what happens when you have developed a genuine connection with a donor who is also interested in your new organization?

I’ve had this happen to me several times in my career. A donor who has become a dear friend might text me to learn more about my new organization. If the donor approaches me, then I was comfortable sharing more details. I never took donor lists or files with me to another organization.

According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, members must abide by specific ethical codes, including:

  • not disclose privileged or confidential information to unauthorized parties.

  • adhere to the principle that all donor and prospect information created by, or on behalf of, an organization or a client is the property of that organization or client.

(Adopted 1964, Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Copyright AFP, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.)

If someone is subtly or directly asking you to bring donors with you to a different organization, then that’s a red flag. While it may be a matter of educating someone on fundraising best practices, there’s the chance that there is a cultural of unethical behavior. Know your industry’s standards and be clear that while relationships with former donors may exist, that privileged donor information stays with the organization.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in startup and smaller nonprofits because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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