How to make a graceful exit

Published by Kimberly Mackenzie on

Donors are awesome! I really like them. All of them. We chat in person and on the phone, I’ve been to their houses, met their grandchildren, exchanged preserves, shared food and stories. They write me notes with their donations. I write them notes with their tax receipts. For the most part we really like each other.

During a recent conversation about ethics during an AFP Toronto Chapter Fundraising Fundamentals course I’m teaching at the moment, there were some sincere questions about the investment we fundraisers make in building relationships with donor and what should happen when we move onto another organization. The conversation was so intense that I thought it was perhaps worth talking about here.

HandshakeAs fundraisers, particularly if you work in major gifts, it is normal to become close to your donors. The ability to build good relationships with our donors is very important in this profession. When it is your time to leave what happens with the relationship you have built up with your donors? 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.

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

So when it is our time to move on how do we break up with our donors?

When I moved from my last job three years ago here are a couple of things we did.

  1. Send out a newsletter to all donors with an announcement from the Executive Director or President announcing my move and wishing me well.
  2. 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:

writingDear ‘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 ABC Charity. I’ve been presented with a great opportunity that I must take advantage of.

I have accepted a position with XYZ Charity. As such my last day in the office will be…

Tell them to keep donating

‘Bill’, your enthusiasm and support of our work is so very much appreciated. I do hope that it continues. There simply isn’t another organization doing the kind of work that ABC Charity. Your donations and involvement are very important.

Reassure them that the organization is in good shape
Because of people like you we have been able to do incredibly well exponentially increasing funding for programs delivered by the ABC Charity. 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 XXX. 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

(there is no need to highlight where you are moving to)

I am deeply grateful for the opportunities afforded to me here 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.

Yes moving on is a bit sad. Changes are bitter sweet. In order to improve the reputation of fundraising as a worth profession, each and every one of us has a responsibility to uphold the highest level of ethical standards as we carry on our work for a more just and fair society. We can start by making sure that our exits are just as graceful as our entrances.

Kimberly Mackenzie

Kimberley is passionate about building the capacity of the third sector and works with a variety of organizations to advance a culture of philanthropy for their important work. For over 16 years she has been transforming fundraising programs and delivering double-digit growth. Kimberley also serves as Editor of Canada’s leading weekly fundraising resource Hilborn’s eNEWS, is a member of the Advisory Council for the Rogare Think Tank in Plymouth University, UK, is the Director of Education for the Planned Giving Council of Simcoe County and is currently writing her first book called The Authentic Fundraiser: How get transformative results for you and your organization.


Janet Kim · March 27, 2013 at 21:08

Excellent, practical, and classy (totally agree with Paul Nazareth) post, on absolutely necessary skill for professionals in a “revolving- door” sector. thank you, Kimberley.

Mazarine · July 5, 2013 at 21:39

hi Kimberly!

Yes, we SHOULD make a graceful exit.

I would have a caveat. IF the nonprofit deserves it.

Did they follow standard HR practices with you?
Was due dilligence maintained from the employee handbook?
Were you treated with respect?
Were you treated like a human being, rather than an easily replaced automaton?

This determines how well you should leave a nonprofit.

I wrote an article about the terrible disposable culture of fundraising professionals Here, would love to get your thoughts on it!



    Jermaine · October 18, 2018 at 21:04

    I recognize this is an old post and you’ll likely never see it, but I couldn’t disagree more with this response. We should only make a graceful exit if the nonprofit deserves it?

    This graceful exist is for the DONORS – not for the ORG. Mistreating or neglecting donors is never a solution or reaction to mistreatment by your employer. I sincerely hope that in the five years since you wrote this you’ve gained the experience and wisdom to realize how horrible of a suggestion this is. WE ALWAYS TREAT DONORS WITH RESPECT, regardless of how “disposable” we may be treated. That’s just what we do!

renuka · April 10, 2018 at 07:57

I was thinking of quitting my first job, as I got a better opportunity. I wanted to leave on good terms and was looking for tips on the same. I came across this blog of yours which gave me valuable ideas on the same. It would help me to quit my job gracefully.

Henry Larry · February 27, 2024 at 09:44

Your insights on making a graceful exit in fundraising resonate deeply. The emphasis on maintaining donor focus while bidding farewell showcases a commitment to ethical practices in our profession. Wishing you continued success in your new endeavors at XYZ Charity.
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Benjamin Wright · June 25, 2024 at 05:10

Good day, esteemed individual! With utmost respect and admiration, I send my geometry dash warmest greetings

Inspired by fundraisers | Beth Borody · March 26, 2013 at 13:57

[…] The first one was a post by Kimberly MacKenzie, a local Toronto fundraiser who I have had the privilege of learning from over the last year. Kimberly’s post was about fundraisers being the middle man in the relationship between donor and cause. She emphasizes  […]

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