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6 Ways to Get Dumped by Your Donors

Easy to Lose, Hard to Get Back


James Martin/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Have you been dumped by your donors?

If you feel as if your fundraising is an uphill trudge, you're probably right. That's because you might be depending on acquiring a lot of new donors and neglecting those you already have.

Research has found that in recent years fundraising, for many nonprofits, has been a wash. For instance, in 2011, one study found that every $100 gained by charities was offset by losses of the same amount.

Those losses came primarily through donors just dropping out or giving less, not to mention the cost of acquiring new donors which is always more expensive than retaining and/or upgrading current ones.

Despite the emphasis on acquiring donors, many charities saw a loss of 107 donors for every 100 gained.

How did fundraisers and charities do that? It wasn't that hard. Here are the rules:

  1. Ignore Attrition

    It isn't so much how many new donors you recruit, but the number who stay with you after giving the first time. The attrition rate for first time donors can be 50 percent in the year after that first gift. Adrian Sargeant, a guru of donor retention, has said that improving your attrition rate by 10 percent can improve the life time value of your donor base by up to 200%. That's a bargain, considering that keeping a donor is far less expensive than acquiring a new one.

  2. Under Communicate

    Many nonprofit fundraisers and marketers worry that they are over communicating, and people will get tired of hearing from them. But, that is rarely the case.

    Some of the top reasons donors say they no longer donate to a charity include that they don't even remember making that donation; and that they were not reminded to give again. The way to keep donors engaged is to over communicate. Just make sure that you send them interesting stuff frequently. We get tired of our own communications and messages long before our donors do.

    For some idea of just how much we under communicate, check out this infographic that illustrates the reasons donors leave us.

  3. Over Ask

    It's one thing to communicate...it's another to just send one ask after another.

    Donors will complain if your charity, for instance, sends another fundraising email or direct mail piece before you've even said thanks for the last one or communicated what you accomplished with the money.

    Sequencing and timing is extremely important. Track every communication you have with a donor and make sure that every ask is appropriate. If you don't have donor management software that makes this easy, keep shopping. There is a solution for every organization whatever its size, and new systems come on the market frequently.

  4. Give Crappy Customer Service

    Do you have the support systems in place to make sure every donor is treated well? That means saying thanks promptly, treating every complaint as though it was the only thing you have to do that day, and measuring donor satisfaction regularly.

    It turns out that just average customer service is not good enough either. A highly satisfied donor is much more committed than just a "satisfied" one. Plus research has shown that someone who has had a complaint and had it taken care of well is more loyal than someone who never had a complaint. So consider a complaint as an opportunity to become memorable in that donor's mind.

  5. Settle for Passive Donor Commitment

    The first time a donor gives, it might be a very passive act: a simple click on a website, a check sent in response to one year-end fundraising appeal, a phone call to the telethon raising money for the latest natural disaster. But passive won't do for the long haul and for generating future gifts.

    Somehow, your charity must move that donor to a more active involvement. That is done through building trust, establishing a personal relationship between the donor and a person who has been helped by the donor's gift, or actual participation in the charity's work through volunteerism or attending an event.

    The work only begins with the first gift. It is like a "qualified lead" in sales. Now you must turn that lead into a genuine sale and generate interest in continuing the relationship.

  6. Be Fickle

    Building a donor relationship takes time. What a donor requires is reinforcement after that first gift. It is not the donor that drops out so much as that your charity drops the ball with poor or nonexistent follow up.

    Adrian Sargeant suggests that for cash gifts, the crucial follow up comes immediately after the act of giving or signing up, during the first 4-6 weeks, and during the first 12 months. That translates into an immediate thank you (as many as a fifth of donors say they were never thanked), a communication such as a newsletter within six weeks, and repeated communications during that crucial first year.

    Don't be a here today, gone tomorrow courter of your donors. Build that relationship over time. It will pay off.

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