History of TDS

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

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

In the early ’90s there was a discussion across Young Life about what to name the training. At a Young Life leadership committee in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which was attended by a consultant from The FOCUS Group, a comment was made that the committee needed to raise more money. The consultant desired to encourage them, and at the same time, challenge them. He said, “I’m impressed with how seriously you take fundraising and how hard you’re working to support Young Life in Spartanburg, but while you’re taking fundraising seriously, you’re not taking donors seriously enough.” The statement of this challenge 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 building relationships versus a transactional, sales approach. The five key elements – Case, Leadership, Prospects, Strategy, Plan – provide a conceptual and easy-to-follow framework for carrying out the relational philosophy of TDS. Emphasizing the relational nature of fundraising, tied to proven principles and practices, is what has attracted many in the nonprofit world to Taking Donors Seriously®.