Tracy Ebarb Talks About Fundraising & First Gifts

Tracy Ebarb

Tracy Ebarb is a veteran fundraiser and NANOE’s International Director. Let’s hear what Tracy has to say about “FIRST GIFTS”

We all have lots of ‘firsts’ in our lives, and sometimes they’re very memorable! Other times, we may work hard to forget them. Either way, ‘firsts’ happen to all of us. In the development/fundraising world there are all kinds of ‘firsts’ – first cultivation visit; first grant application; first grant awarded; first appeal letter written; first capital campaign; first annual campaign; first gift from a cultivated prospect; first 5-figure gift, first 6-figure gift!; first rejection; first ‘get lost’ visit; and tons more.

There is one ‘first’ that we are often directly responsible for, but that we often don’t value the way we should – the “FIRST” gift from a donor. To be certain, we usually celebrate the first gift from a donor, most of us have that down pat. What I’m wondering is why we stop there? Why don’t we find creative and memorable ways to celebrate all the gifts that follow the ‘first’. With the first gift, a new donor may get a welcome packet, a call from the CEO or a Board Member, a special ‘membership’ sticker, or what have you, but when the second gift comes, especially if it’s a periodical gift(monthly, quarterly, etc.), we usually send a basic, but sincere, ‘thank you’. Our attitude toward donors changes once they’re ‘a part of the family’, which is code for ‘in our system’. The thrill of the chase has paid off with that first donation, and now it’s just not quite as exciting.

If you’ve got children, this illustration may resonate somewhat…


First child: You take a picture of the new addition pretty much every day, but certainly on the month-iversary of the birthday, usually wearing a one-month, two-month, etc. t-shirt or onesie (just in case anyone is marking the time besides you).

Second kid: There are a few ‘monthly’ pictures, but rarely consecutive. The special clothes and cute props are gone.

Third kid: Crickets past the first month, then all of sudden you’ve got ANOTHER birthday party to plan, ugh!


First child: Photo cards for every occasion, including Valentine’s Day and Easter with pictures of our baby, sent out to friends and family.

Second kid: Celebrate Valentine’s Day and all the other non-big holidays, but no one gets custom cards.

Third kid: WHAT?, Valentine’s Day is tomorrow? Run to the store at 11:00pm for box cards, and hope your kids get good stuff at school since the only candy left at CVS was what no one else would buy.


First child: Your mission is to make sure they know everything that’s age appropriate, and maybe a little more. You want to make sure your first born is at the high end of the scale in every category!

Second kid: You do what you can, but don’t stress about it much, after all, kids learn stuff really quickly.

Third kid: You wonder “when did he learn THAT?”

You get the point? After the ‘first’ whether it’s in child-rearing or in donor recognition, most of us kind of slack off! Now, to be fair, it seems to work out pretty well with kids (at least that’s been my experience), but if we’re really honest about it, it’s not the best model when it comes with donors. Many organizations do a good(maybe great) job when it comes to recognizing and thanking a first-time donor. However, my experience in working with nonprofits tells me that we don’t exactly do a stellar job of recognizing, thanking and celebrating a donor’s second, third, fourth or whatever, gift! We all know the metrics on donor retention and how little it costs to retain a donor compared to acquiring a new one, but not many organizations have a genuine plan to make that happen. We are all very focused and intent on finding new donors, building capacity and growing our database (hoping that our donor base grows as well), and we often neglect the PROVEN value of the LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS. Many of whom became LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS because of poor follow-up on our part.

LYBUNT (pronounced “lie-bunt”) means donors who have given Last Year But Unfortunately Not This. This refers specifically to donors who gave in the immediately preceding (last) calendar/fiscal year but not in the current calendar/fiscal year.

SYBUNT (pronounced “sigh-bunt”) means donors who have given Some Year But Unfortunately Not This. This refers specifically to donors who gave in any preceding (some) calendar/fiscal year but not in the current calendar/fiscal year.**

What might happen if we treated every donor’s gift like it was the first time they had ever given? How does your Organization’s response to the second and third gifts differ from the first? What are you doing right? What needs to change? What successes have you experienced that you can share with other Organizations?

Tracy Ebarb Talks About First Gifts was first posted at NANOE News. For more articles by Tracy Ebarb VISIT HERE

Tracy Ebarb is the National Director of the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives (NANOE) headquartered in Washington, D.C. He holds all three NANOE Credentials including Certified Nonprofit Executive (CNE), Certified Development Executive (CDE) and Certified Nonprofit Consultant (CNC). Tracy also holds the internationally recognized designation as a CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive). He has spent his entire career working to improve charitable capacity-building and the changing philanthropic landscape. Tracy’s journey in the nonprofit world began in the early 80’s through his service on Church Staff as Youth Minister, Associate Pastor, Church Administrator, Director of Development and Stewardship and Senior Pastor. Tracy joined the renowned consulting firm of Cargill & Associates in 1998, designing and conducting over 60 Capital Stewardship Campaigns raising over $50 million dollars. As an independent Consultant, Tracy has traveled extensively overseas raising funds and working to develop humanitarian projects in the African nations of Sierra Leone, Malawi and Zambia, and the Central American nations of Nicaragua, Haiti and Honduras. As well as consulting and developing Capital Fundraising Campaigns in over 75 churches and nonprofits across the US. Until recently, Tracy has guided the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame as the Director of Business Development. He has recently accepted the position of Chief Development Officer at Directions 12 Step, a residential chemical dependency campus in Dallas, TX. Tracy is fond of sharing, “Years ago singer/songwriter Jackson Browne made the phrase ‘running on empty’ famous, and in comparison that’s exactly what the nonprofit sector has been doing for decades! RUNNING ON EMPTY. Executives work harder than ever to secure a shrinking piece of the philanthropic pie. NANOE is the catalyst we’ve all been looking for and provides our members what they really need, the courage to challenge the status quo, and reshape our world!” An accomplished pubic speaker and motivator, Tracy Ebarb has been privileged to speak to thousands of organizations in a variety of venues. He spent many years as a high school and small college radio sports broadcaster. Tracy and his wife Jacque are parents to 7 children ranging in age from 33 to 21.

1 Comment

  1. I’m new to the fundraising industry and I really need to read this kind of article. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. You are the best!

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