Donor Cultivation

Retention matters more than you may realize

By | Donor Cultivation | No Comments

catch_and_release_only-300x200As we embark on a new year, many take the time to identify resolutions for the coming months. For fundraisers, our goals are often centered around increasing contributions, and gaining new donors. What if we also focused on keeping our established donors?

Research into donor retention across the nonprofit industry indicates that our ability to keep the friends we make might be far worse than we actually realize. All year, we scramble for new contributors, each of whom are likely giving only modestly until they get to know us. Chances are, we aren’t doing enough to keep them engaged, and they don’t hang around for long.

According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Fundraising Effectiveness Project, chances are, only 43% of your new donors this year will return next year. If this trend prevails, your organization will retain in 2019 somewhere around 1.5 percent of the donors it acquires this year. 2014’s thousand donors will have dwindled to 15 people still hanging with you.

Still, each year we spend spin our wheels. We prioritize the accumulation of new donors, even with special recognition and fanfare, and all but ignore established ones.

What if we spent some of our valuable resources this year building relationships with our established donors instead of checking an imaginary box that they’ve been recruited, and then ignoring them?  What if we took the time to find out why they’d given in the first place and let them have some idea what we did with their contribution?

What if, by doing so, we increased our donor retention rates by even 10 percent? Those 15 donors (out of an original 1,000) become 42 donors, whose commitment to our cause and relationship with (and perhaps annual contribution to) our organization has been strengthened. We know individuals can continue to give at ever increasing levels over the course of their lifetime and beyond if so moved, so those 42 donors over the course of the next five years might become our major donors, their ranks growing every year.

Think of ways you can build a relationship with the donors you worked so hard to acquire last year, as well as with the ones who have stuck with you from even further back.

Need ideas on how to do this? Enlist your fundraising committee and board in brainstorming inexpensive opportunities. Even if they don’t love the idea of picking up the phone at first, once they hear how grateful people are to hear a simple thank you, they’ll be the biggest proponents of your retention efforts.

Following are some activities I like to see organizations conduct:

Conduct a donor thank-you campaign – Enlist a group of volunteers to make thank you phone calls for an evening. Give them a script and a list. If you’re really energized, bring appetizers, sit around a table and make a party out of the evening. You’re not asking for anything. In fact, you’ll leave messages about 80 percent of the time. But you’ll get noticed, and your callers will have fun.

Add a personal touch to your acknowledgements – Donors notice which organizations include personalized notes on acknowledgement letters and which ones just leave a signature. How hard is it to handwrite a little something extra? Hope the kids are well. Enjoying the weather? I’d love to see you soon!

Highlight the personal stories of one or two of your supporters – if you have a donor or two willing to let you interview them for your annual report or a vignette in your newsletter, do it. Include a photo. Why did they give? What is their history with the organization? What is their story? Be brief and warm. Other donors will volunteer their stories. Others still will be inspired and feel they are part of a community.

Look for special opportunities for recognition – local news organizations and publications are always looking for nominees for community members/businesspeople/women/men/youth of the year. Each spring, our local AFP chapter solicits nominations for heroes in philanthropy. These are low cost means of not only recognizing those important to our organizations, but also finding out more about them.

Include them in your inner circle – Do you have an email or snail-mail newsletter for inner circle friends and associates? Include your established donors with a personal note saying why you thought they’d be interested.

As you’re firming up your resolutions for the New Year, take some time to include donor retention efforts in your plans. In both the short and long term, you’ll be happy you did so.


Leave a comment: What are some of your favorite low cost/high impact donor retention strategies?

Photo by: Michael Corbett


Tips for the new fundraiser … or job seeker

By | Donor Cultivation | 3 Comments

jobs_help_wantedThis weekend I took our son, Jack, to look for a summer job. He just turned 15, so his prospects are limited.

He’s fairly motivated. He’d like a laptop, and probably a host of other electronic gear for which his parents aren’t going to pony up.

Of course, he’s new at this job search thing. I think he’ll be great at anything, but the search itself will be a challenge.

There are so many parallels between working with a first time job seeker and working with the first time fundraising volunteer. Here are some tips I’d give to either one: Read More

Your new donors are not all that into crickets

By | Donor Cultivation | No Comments

 IDG_color_webDid your organization participate in Idaho Gives last year?

In 2013 more than 6,000 individuals gave a total of 9,415 donations in support of 541 nonprofit projects, raising a total of $578, 735.

It was an impressive amount and an equally impressive gathering of organizations and donors.

But still, we can all do math: that total spread out across that many organizations means that the average amount raised was not huge. Some organizations raised thousands and garnered dozens of new donors. Others raised considerably less.

But Idaho Gives is more than just the sum of its donations. Read More

Rule 1 of a fundraising board: ask first of yourself

By | Donor Cultivation | No Comments

doodle-1016-money-bagsLast week I was working with a board on their 2014 plan. One of their primary goals is to increase their fundraising capacity.

There were multiple opportunities for this organization to raise more money including developing a scholarship program for participants, connecting with potential corporate sponsors, grant writing and expanding special events.

What, I asked, was their goal for board giving?

They looked at me. Board giving?

Read More

Marketing v. development: don’t forget the donor

By | Donor Cultivation, Marketing | No Comments

dylan_thomas_quoteLast week I had to be a wet blanket.

I had written some copy for an organization’s year-end appeal letter and asked for feedback.

I wasn’t excited about the response: “I sent it over to our new marketing guy to see what he could do with it, and I’m impressed! Now people might read it!”

I didn’t even have to open the document to know I’d probably disagree, but then I thought maybe I was being thin-skinned because I wrote the letter in the first place. So I opened it.

It was beautiful, with action photos, color blocked text and all the right words and statistics highlighted. And, yes, I read the whole thing. It wasn’t hard – lots of easy words, bullet points, bolded text.

The flyer outlined three programs that had served impressive numbers of children throughout the course of the year. It called out the recognition I would receive in response to my contribution. It highlighted the goals of the organization…. And all in a pleasing layout.

It made me think, what is the difference between marketing and development?

Marketing can generate brand recognition and excitement, and can be part of the development process. Development goes a step further to build a relationship that provides the incentive for people to take initiative even though they may never benefit personally.

Marketing is a precursor to a process wherein a transaction takes place to benefit the customer and the seller. Effective marketing can aid in making your fundraising effort visible, but ultimately, development is about a relationship that is not based upon a transaction, but on a common purpose.

This common purpose is about taking a stand and affecting change. It’s about ‘raging against the dying of the light,’ in other words. About not accepting things as they are but doing something about it. As a potential donor I need to know I can affect change through your organization. And because I know I can’t be a big enough donor to do this by myself, I need to know I’m being invited to be a part of a group with a common focus. Tell me a heart-warming story about the change I’m helping to affect and I will take it to heart and share it with others.

This rework of the annual giving letter outlined the product of the organization, but gave me no context. Who were these kids? Privileged children of community leaders or disadvantaged youth? Starving waifs or juvenile delinquents? Where had they come from and what were we celebrating in these pictures? What had their journey been?

It lacked the gravity a first hand account would have given. A story about a person, not a number, someone with whom I could identify whose life was changed because people like me gave last year.

It included no personal invitation. Was this flyer directed at me? From whom? It could well have been posted on a telephone pole for all the personalization it contained. As an established donor, I had to wonder: were the results outlined on the piece ones that I helped accomplish?

Where was the passion in this letter? The call to make a stand? To do something good, with no thought about our own benefit?

Would I give money in response to this? Would I be motivated enough to write a check? Click a button? Be moved to any action at all?

When it comes to inciting people to give, it’s not about how pretty the package is, but about how the message is delivered. Don’t be afraid to be the wet blanket when it comes to development. Make sure your donor is included in the discussion.