History of TDS

Although it had yet to be called Taking Donors Seriously®, the program had its start in 1985 when InterVarsity Christian Fellowship asked for fundraising training for four regional directors who were struggling with raising support. The training and its focus on relationships caught the interest of other InterVarsity staff and quickly extended across the organization. It has served as the fountainhead for InterVarsity’s fundraising training for nearly 30 years.

As the InterVarsity began its rollout of the training, Young Life heard about it and asked to have it presented to regional directors in the San Francisco Bay Area. They were immediately enthusiastic and requested a presentation for their senior leadership team, comprised of more than 100 staff members. The reaction was also very favorable, because Young Life’s leaders recognized that the framework fit hand-in-glove with their emphasis on relationships. Shortly thereafter, Young Life conducted a national rollout of the material and made it their official fundraising training program.

In the early ’90s there was a discussion in Young Life about what to name the training. It happened that Bill Hautt, the founder of The FOCUS Group and the creator of TDS, was meeting with a Young Life committee in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The meeting began with a comment that the committee needed to raise more money; the chairman then pointed to Bill and said, “He’ll save us.” While the committee had a preliminary business session, Bill thought, “How can I encourage them and, at the same time challenge them?”

When it came time for Bill to introduce the principles driving Young Life’s new approach to fundraising, he said, “I’m impressed with how seriously you take fundraising and how hard you’re working at it to support Young Life in Spartanburg, but while you’re taking fundraising seriously, you’re not taking donors seriously enough.” This is how our approach came to be called Taking Donors Seriously®.

There are fundraising training programs available in a variety of media and formats. Some ask, “What’s different about TDS?” The core of TDS is the emphasis on relationships versus a sales approach. TDS’s five factors – Case, Leadership, Prospects, Strategy, Plan – provide a conceptual framework for carrying out the relational philosophy of TDS. Emphasizing the relational nature of raising money, tied to proven principles and practices, is what attracts many in the nonprofit world to Taking Donors Seriously®.