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Karen Eber Davis

About Karen

Want Donations? Crystalize Your Development Theory

What’s your explanation of how your nonprofit organization obtains donations? How exactly does having a mission, supporters, and need, generate money? How do these elements fit together? What’s your theory?

In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth writes about a meeting with her famous graduate advisor, Martin Seligman. When his questions reveal that she lacks a theory for her field of study, he fusses at her. She leaves the office in distress and invests a decade to finding a theory about grit. Grit, she found, predicts success more than talent or IQ.

If you seek donated income, you need grit. You also need a theory about how you receive donations. Without a theory, people get perplexed and lost when they try to help. A theory reduces complexity. Everyone knows what to do next and how different actions contribute to donation growth. Your theory points out how you work together to effectively gain donations.

What donations? Write out how donations happen. Write out your theory. If you’re serious about growing donated income, make generating your organization’s theory the heart of your next board retreat.

Below I share my theory and an explanation of it. But, first, jot down yours.

Karen’s Development Theory

Here’s my development theory based on decades of helping organizations grow their income:

mission x effort x skill = supporters

supporter value x effort = income

Here are the descriptions of each of the terms:


Jim Collins, in his monograph, Good to Great and the Social Sectors, writes, “. . . the number-one resource for a great social sector organization is having enough of the right people willing to commit themselves to mission.”


Effort counts twice. This is your grit.

Your noble purpose provides limitless fuel for your rocket. However, without effort you’ll sit on the launch pad blowing smoke. Your efforts, combined with your mission, generate supporters.

Without effort, supporters never know about the value you provide. Effort allows you to fuel your boosters to enter orbit.


No one is a born fundraiser. Fundraising requires a bucket of proficiencies. For some, talking to people comes easy. For others, writing requests is their forte. Professionals work on development skills one by one throughout their professional careers, and master them.


Your supporters determine value, not you. When you provide supporters with value, some respond and become donors.

Are Theories Important?

When the way gets foggy and the roar of the crowd distracts, your theory lights the path to follow. Theory explains to board members and donors how donations arrive in your inbox. When you wake in middle of the night, remember your theory. It will point the way forward tomorrow and allow you to sleep in peace.

What’s your theory of donations? Explain it to someone today. Test it. Refine it. Embrace it to grow your donations.


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