donor development

"Bye, Bye, Love ..."

Because you're one of most generous supporters, I wanted to include you in an exciting opportunity to double your holiday giving, the letter opened.

A group of generous, anonymous donors had issued the matching gift challenge.

It's a great technique:

  • Matching funds to increase the impact of my giving. Help me make an even greater difference. 
  • Tied to holidays (and/or year-end giving season). 
  • They may have even limited the offer to supporters who hadn't given in a while in an attempt to reactivate lapsed donors. (The ask was based on my HPC, btw.)

The problem is, it's not going to work. And I realized as I read the rest of the letter, even the best technique is no substitute for touch.

A little background. I have more than 20 years of history with this organization. Untold hours volunteering. Board service. Many consecutive years of giving.

Then my feelings got hurt.

It wasn't really that big of deal at the time. I felt unappreciated. Taken for granted. So I pulled back. Stopped volunteering. Stopped giving. Showed up a lot less.

And nobody noticed.

I didn't even get a letter that said "We miss you." Or at least, maybe in January, "We missed your year-end gift this year." Let alone a phone call (from someone on staff … don't even get me started on what I would have said to a telemarketer!)

What can you do? Do you just let supporters fade away? (No!) Or are some constituents valuable enough to warrant extra attention? (Yes!)

We recommend clients identify a pre-defined level of top-tier donors. Not just major (high dollar) donors, but constituents who have been involved for some time (two-plus consecutive years) and have multiple interactions (giving, event participation, volunteering, etc.) and do meet a minimum threshold of total annual giving.

We suggest they considered what level of support might warrant extra concern, determined in part by how many people that is and how much capacity the organization can commit to response.

And that they try to identify signs that may indicate that the relationship is in trouble. (For example, a regular donor who hasn't given in six or nine months; a volunteer who stops showing up, etc.)

Develop a pre-lapse strategy. It's a proven approach. You can't save everyone. But the sooner you try to salvage a shaky relationship the greater the likelihood you'll succeed.

As for me, a matching gift offer just ain't gonna cut it. Not even a triple, or quadruple match. Not after 18-plus months.

I'll admit it pains me a bit. But I think I can find somebody else to care about.

I know I get lots of requests. Especially this time of year!

And they all gave happily ever after ….

Admit it. We all fall prey at times. The Fairy Tales of Fundraising.

Consider the urgent appeal that so dramatically (dare we say, hyperbolically?) calls for an immediate response to forestall impending disaster. And never a thought of Aesop’s bored little shepherd boy who shouted out false alarm.

“Don't cry 'wolf' when there is NO wolf!” the villagers admonished. When the wolf actually does come, no one responds to the call.

Or picture the harried volunteer manager, frenetically dashing from task to task as she falls ever further behind. After all, it often seems quicker to do something yourself than to convince (or teach) someone else to pitch in.

Sound remotely like The Little Red Hen as she bravely announces, “Then I’ll do it myself”?

Or think of the countless organizations reaching for the next shiny new thing. Ever hopeful, investing time after time … in the pricey premium that’s a can’t-fail investment … or state-of-the-art software that’s an end-all solution…or a proprietary new approach and its path to prosperity.

Surely this couldn’t be those treacherous tailors who knew how to weave a cloth “invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality."

It’s so seductive, this siren’s song. Always a quick and easy solution. Plug-and-play.  Set-it-and-forget-it.  Trust me ... it'll be all right.

And perhaps nowhere is the deception more dangerous than in acquiring new supporters.  Just get someone to raise their hand and ask for information…attend an event…or better yet, send in a gift ... and you’ll own them forever.

When you really don’t own them at all.  In fact, unless you earn it, you likely won’t receive further consideration at all.

Because when it comes to fundraising, fairy tale endings are few and far between.

Building a Broader Base

I’ve been on a retention rant for some time now. Still am, in fact.

But no one stays on your file forever. (Or, as they say in the publishing business, even the most loyal subscriber is bound to expire.)

So how do you find replacements?

The easy solution would be to buy a list, drop a mailing and voila … new supporters abound.

Unfortunately, it’s seldom that simple … particularly for a smaller  organization that can't afford to invest heavily today, but not expect payback for years.

There are a number of activities most organizations can pursue to help build their base of supporters. Much of it depends on encouraging a capture mentality throughout the organization.
  1. Your web site is your window to the world. Do you offer visitors convincing reasons to raise their hand and identify themselves? It’s not enough just to offer your free newsletter (captivating though that may seem to you!) Stay on top of current issues? Find out more about an area of interest. Receive updates on events or activities?
  2. Will current supporters–especially advocates–help facilitate an introduction to their friends? Not give you names to send an appeal to, but be a part of outreach activities. Meet the actors, before or after a performance. A fireside chat with the CEO. A friend-raising reception in their home.
  3. Can you tie onto timely events to draw attention to your organization? A bill in the legislature. A civic milestone. A recently released study or report. In a perfect world, your ED is the person reporters call for comment. In the real world, you may need to help make the connection through tweets, posts on facebook, an article on your web site, etc.
  4. Make it easy. If you’re presenting, don’t just ask people to get in touch;  pass out cards people can fill out and return to you (and give them a reason to do so!) Always make sure your contact information is readily available.
  5. Target groups who could become allies. A local Rotary or Lions club. A young professionals group. A nearby school or neighborhood association. You’ll need to get to know the group well enough to understand their needs (what they’re looking for) and then find ways your organization can help them fill those needs. 
Granted, none of these offer an immediate panacea.

But don’t think of acquisition as a one-time activity. Instead, consider it an ongoing effort that permeates the organization. A mindset that includes both the openness to organic growth … and the eager commitment to encourage that growth.

Then look for every opportunity available to help make that happen!