License Plate: NOT GR8

5 Cardinal Sins for Nonprofit Fundraising Renewal Appeals

License Plate: NOT GR8

In my last article I talked about the importance of making a good first impression with potential donors.

It’s extremely important to have a strategy in place, just as if you were going on a first date. Those who plan ahead do well. Those who don’t? Not so much.

Both dating, and donor wooing, are a delicate dance.

But, let’s say you did a good job. Your donor prospect made a gift!

Now what?

If you like them (of course you do!), and want a second date (of course!), you’ve got to make a good second impression. And third, fourth and fifth impression. The value of a first-time donor (which often costs as much as $1.25 to generate $1.00) is not realized in that initial gift. Sustainable fundraising is all about donor lifetime value.

So, after the first gift, you definitely want a plan in place to thank and cultivate this donor throughout the year. Some communications will have an ask included, but most will be designed to build your donor’s interest, engagement and loyalty. Once the relationship is sufficiently built, it’s time to seek that second gift.

Let’s talk about the renewal appeal, and why so many of them are just gosh-darn awful.

Why Do Fundraisers Who Should Know Better Keep Committing These Sins?

Maybe it’s because of the “monkey see, monkey do” nature of human beings. We see someone else do something and assume it’s good practice. Especially when they’re a household name, just bigger than us, or someone we, another staff member or board representative hold in high regard.

Girls sharing secrets

5 Secret Nonprofit Donor Retention Action Strategies

Girls sharing secretsGiving is an emotional experience. It deserves an emotional response.

Be human.

Ever notice how sometimes when we put on our work hats we cease to be human? How we somehow morph into little robotic “professionals” and become enamored of jargon?

“Lybnts.” “Sybnts.” “Recaptures.”

Not that those things aren’t important. You need goals and objectives.

And given the dreadful state of donor retention in the U.S. today (and in the U.K and Canada as well), it’s vital you be able to measure how you’re doing. Because growth in giving is a factor not just of how many new donors and dollars you acquire, but also of how many donors and dollars you lose.

If you lose as many current donors as you gain new ones, you’re getting nowhere. Fast.

Treadmills Are Only Good in the Gym

Slow down.

Think about what you’re doing and why. You may need to change your frame of mind.

When you acquire a new donor, is it for that one-time transaction? If so, that’s not a very thoughtful strategy, because it costs more money than you make to acquire new donors. In fact, you likely won’t make back your investment for 18 months or so. You won’t make it back at all if you don’t renew that donor.

Nonprofits, sadly, have been on a non-stop treadmill. Donors in. Donors out. Donors in. Donors out. So… something about just measuring this stuff isn’t really working.


Are You Rocking Donor Retention 101?

You love me. I love you. Let's hang out and rock!

You love me. I love you. Let’s hang out and rock!


Really, donors definitely want to rock and roll with you. It brings them joy and meaning!

Yet, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s doubtful you’re rocking along with your donors unless you’re making robust use of your donor database for this purpose.

In other words, you must make donor engagement and retention a TOP priority.

Retention lives or dies in how effectively, or not, you use your database to support your relationship-building, loyalty-driving efforts.

If you think of your database as a largely undifferentiated mailing list, you’re not going to realize your potential to:

  • Boost renewal rates
  • Increase average gift size
  • Upgrade donors
  • Secure major and legacy gifts
  • Recapture lapsed donors
  • … and more!

Really, I just can’t bear to think of you not maximizing return on your investment.

And that won’t happen unless you focus on donor lifetime value.

And lifetime value will be very, very small — unless you retain and upgrade donors over time.

There are 5 Keys to Donor Retention

Event guests wearing masks

Nonprofit Event Fundraising: They’ll Never Forget How You Made Them Feel

Event guests wearing masks


In Part 1 we looked at establishing event goals and objectives; then determining if an event was the most efficient and effective way to achieve desired outcomes. In Part 2 we reviewed 4 top event planning tips. In this last article of a three-part series on event planning we’ll look specifically at how to make the event “stick” emotionally.

1. Overall, we’ve recognized most events are less about actual monetary return on investment (ROI) than they are about return on engagement (ROE). In other words, if you’re doing an event purely to raise money there are other more cost-effective fundraising strategies.

2. However, events done right are an excellent awareness-raising, branding and donor cultivation tool. You just have to go into events fully cognizant of what success will look like, both from your organization’s and your donor’s perspectives.  Only armed with this understanding can you create events that will be worth your while.

3. Today we look at ways to make events – once you’ve decided to hold them – fulfill both your and your donors’ dreams. This is where you deliver on becoming unforgettable — in a truly great way — so the next time you reach out you are warmly embraced. In other words, this is the first step to getting event attendees to stick with you over time.

Gala event room

Top Proven Nonprofit Fundraising Event Planning Tips

Gala event room

In my last article (Part 1 of a three-part event planning series) I offered a compendium of common sense event planning advice. It centered on the wisdom offered to Alice by the Cheshire Cat when she asked which road she should take:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,”
said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

— Alice in Wonderland

When it comes to special events, your goal is important.

Once you settle on a direction, then you’re able to pick the best road to take you there.

Hopefully you read the previous article, determined an event was your best strategic option to reach your primary end goal, and now you’re ready to get to work!

4 Top Planning Tips to Invite and Ignite

1. First you want people to come. 

This means your invitation to the event should incorporate the following:

Gala event reception

Common Sense Nonprofit Event Planning Advice

Gala event reception

Let’s begin with the Big Kahuna piece of advice: Ask yourself WHY you want to do this event.

Were you to bring your event proposal to a wise shaman or mentor, this is the question they would ask you first – well before asking what theme or format you have in mind or what color scheme you want to use!

And yet this is the one question I find nonprofits failing to ask.  Does anyone in leadership on your staff or board think either of these things?

  • Events are an inevitable part of the diversified fundraising mix.
  • Events are the primary way to generate awareness and funds.

Events are neither inevitable nor primary.

Events are merely a means to an end.

And since they are extremely resource-intensive, one thing is critical — and too many nonprofits skip right over this step. Please, don’t let that be you!

Think long and hard before embarking on a strategy that could potentially derail other more lucrative and cost-effective approaches.

Events have their place, to be sure; it’s up to you to put them in their place. You must take charge, lest your event(s) take charge of you!

What is Your End Goal?

You don’t buy a drill because you need a drill. More likely, you need to create a hole. And there’s something particular you want to fill that hole with, right? Maybe the drill will give you that perfect hole or, perhaps, there’s another more effective tool. It depends on the size and purpose of your desired hole. The same is true with nonprofit special events.

You don’t create an event for the sake of having one.

No matter what one or more board members or other leaders think would be swell. No, you hold an event for a specific purpose. For example, to:

Muir Woods California pathway fork

The Meaning of Philanthropy, Not Fundraising – Part 2


Muir Woods California pathway fork

Get on the Pathway to Passionate Philanthropy, Not Forgettable Fundraising

In Part 1 I laid out why philanthropy inspires, and fundraising tires.

Fundraising must be done, of course, but there’s something about how it’s too often practiced that turns too many people off.

It’s the “fund” part of the word. This makes people think it’s all about money, when really it’s all about valued outcomes.

These valued outcomes are shared by many who care about the cause.

  • Donors and non-donors.
  • Employees and volunteers.
  • Users and providers of services.
  • Development departments and program departments.

All these folks have a collective stake in the love and mission-focused organization’s survival.

Because all of them are dedicated to making the world, or some small corner of it, a better place.

How Philanthropic Stakeholders Get Disenfranchised

When fundraising is delegated to the development committee, or the development director, it disenfranchises a huge segment of folks who care about sustaining the cause — both internally and externally.

Similarly, when donors are competed over, donors are disenfranchised. This may take the form of non-cooperation or even outright war between those who should be facilitating philanthropy.