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December 3, 2021
How Nonprofits Can Develop Giving Societies
By Robin L. Cabral

Robin Cabral
Robin Cabral
Giving societies offer nonprofits an excellent way to cultivate, steward, and upgrade donors ”“ which not only increases retention rates, but also boosts the lifetime value of those donors to your organization.

A giving society can take your fund development program to the next level by providing a special place for current and prospective donors to belong in your organization. It does that by building a "tribe" of loyal and supportive members.

Some giving societies focus on level, monthly, major, and legacy donors. Generally, nonprofits set up various groups at different giving levels and offer corresponding benefits to group members. The following will help.

Step #1: Develop and solidify the membership levels and benefits of the giving society
Focus on creating transformative member experiences, instead of emphasizing membership benefits that are transactional in nature, e.g., guest passes, discount at the gift shop, etc. Think creatively and expansively about the hands-on benefits that you can offer to your donors.

Step# 2: Develop effective giving society member materials and publications.
Determine if an “exclusive” giving society publication, e.g., newsletter, e-newsletter, or other similar publication, is necessary and of value. Consider a giving society membership “Welcome Kit.” Also, consider special inserts to existing publications promoting giving society membership.

Step #3: Develop a process of society renewals each year.
Focus on maintaining retention and upgrading, and preventing membership lapses. Each renewal segment should be considered a mini-campaign with its own timelines and benchmarks.

Step #4: Monitor progress yearly and develop a specialized renewal process for lapsed giving society members.
Personalized approaches may include a telephone call, personalized letter, or e-mail from the executive director or another staff member. Lapsed segments can be defined as “recent” (expired 6 to 18 months) or “vintage” (expired more than 18 months).

Step #5: Identify members and donors who can be targeted for potential upgrades to higher giving society levels each year.
Develop segmented personalized approaches. Follow-up with prospective members who may qualify for the giving society through a variety of personal approaches,(e.g., telephone call, email, etc.

Step #6: Identify special event donors, including corporations, who may qualify for giving society membership or use it as a tool to inspire their giving.
Consider specialized outreach approaches to special event attendees before, during, and after those events. Build a membership recruitment component into existing and future special events.

Step #7: Identify donors and members on the cusp of qualifying for membership via their cumulative giving or other qualifications.
Develop segmented, personalized approaches to inspire upgrading to reach the giving society membership level benchmark. Follow-up with prospective donors through a variety of personal approaches, e.g., telephone call, email, etc.

Step #8: Solicit giving society members as part of annual fund special appeals.
This gives members an opportunity to give again throughout the year. Appeals should be highly personalized, recognizing their giving society membership and the important role they play within the organization.

Step #9: Use gatherings and receptions to create exclusivity and inspiration for prospects to become engaged in the giving society.
It starts with personalized follow-up after events, with the aim of deepening support of your organization in a more transformative way, and then staying in touch in an equally meaningful way with personal calls and other focused communications.

Step #10: Develop corresponding appeals with consistent messaging for social media and online via the organization's website.
The goal is to promote giving society membership and its benefits. Consider providing an Information Capture Request Form on the website for society membership inquiries. Respond to inquiries as needed.

Step #11: Utilize the giving membership society as a way to inspire major gifts.
Make giving society membership a “tool” while personally soliciting a major gift.

Step #12: Consider developing a sustainer program as part of membership in a giving society.
This gives members the option of pledging their gift and providing the organization with a constant (perhaps on a monthly basis) and secure cash flow. Monthly donors are the donors with the highest retention rates and with the largest long-term donor value. Monthly donors also become the most likely planned gift prospects.

Step #13: Develop specialized recognition opportunities for the giving society.
It should include recognition events and other opportunities to honor the loyal support of giving society members, such as inclusion in annual report listings, special plaques, etc.

Step #14: Develop key metrics for giving society membership.
This is a critical aspect of your program, as it will enable you to analyze and make decisions on strategy based on past and current results. Metrics should include goals for increasing membership, renewals, retention, upgrades, inquiries, etc.

Robin Cabral, principal of Development Consulting Solutions, is a certified fundraising executive who works with mid-sized nonprofits to build capacity and improve fundraising results. Email her at or call 508-685-8899.
April 2018
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