Important News about Relationship Fundraising: Stop Losing Donors

Broken Heart
Do you know how you may be breaking your donor’s heart? Keep it up, and they’ll break yours.

This is important.

It’s about a report that may change how you do fundraising.

It should.

Let me explain.

Unless you’ve been asleep at the wheel, by now you should know most nonprofits have been hemorrhaging donors for over a decade.

By tending to focus more on expensive, staff-intensive acquisition strategies like direct mail and special events, charities are bringing in one-time donors who never give to them again. It’s why I focus so much on donor retention strategies and exhort you to make them your priority strategy.

Why? Because otherwise all your acquisition efforts are wasted. The latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report  revealed an astounding 81% of first-time donors lapse. [BTW: This isn’t the report that’s going to change your modus operandi; it’s merely the rationale for the release of the report that will. Keep reading.] Of repeat donors, 39% lapse. For every 100 new donors acquired, on average nonprofits lost 96 existing donors.

“Over 70% of people that we recruit into organizations never come back and make another gift, so we’re caught on this treadmill where we have to spend lots of money on acquisition which most nonprofits lose money on anyway, just to stand still.”

– Professor Adrian Sargeant,
Director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University

This is the proverbial three steps forward, two steps back – only worse!

This burn and churn strategy is killing nonprofits — and burning out the folks who work in them.

Why is it that for profits manage to retain 94% of customers, yet there’s such a huge disparity when it comes to nonprofits?

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What’s Going On? What Can We Do?

Love lettersI had a fundraising post all ready to launch today, but I just couldn’t do it.

The world seems wildly out of whack right now.  I can’t pretend it’s business as usual.

I try to stay away from “politics,” because I know that’s not why you read my blog. However, we live in a political world. And so do our nonprofits, our staff, our volunteers, our donors and our clients. Simply put, politics is about making agreements between people so that they can live together in groups.

Nonprofits cannot seal themselves off in little bubbles, pretending what’s happening in the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

That’s why, during the pandemic, I encouraged you to talk about how events touch those who rely on you. It’s why, all the time, I encourage you to relate your work to what’s in the news and top of mind to donors. Be it hurricanes, fires, famine, drought, social unrest, war, civil liberties, mass shootings, homophobia, racism, sexism, bigotry, or anything else horrifying to body, mind, heart and soul.

If it’s something you’re thinking about, you can bet it’s something your constituents are thinking about.

If you don’t address it, you risk coming across as unimportant, blind, shallow or out of touch. Being relevant, and meaningful, means getting inside your supporters’ heads and knowing what’s important to them. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? In what way do the emotions they’re currently experiencing interact with your mission? How can they help you, and you help them?

I don’t know how you’ve been feeling, but many folks I’ve been talking to have mentioned anger, outrage and fear. Even those who are happy about one or two things are deeply concerned about other developments. And this holds true for both sides. Listen to Fox News, then listen to MSNBC.  You’ll hear equal doses of horror. The pendulum has been swinging wildly, back and forth, and the world seems madly out of whack.

What can the social benefit sector do to bring things back into balance?

I keep coming back to the Golden Rule. What if none of us ever did anything to anyone else we didn’t want them to do unto us? What if we only treated others as we would want to be treated? It seems so simple. So logical. So in everyone’s best interest.

What is it about the human animal that leads the same people who don’t want government to impose mask or vaccine mandates on them wanting to impose no abortion mandates on others? Or, from the other perspective, those who don’t want government telling them they can’t smoke pot wanting to tell others they can’t carry guns? All of this “I can impose, but you can’t” is nonsense from the perspective of “do unto others.” Yet, we persist.

The only way to make sense of these things is through an understanding of balance. We must strive toward philanthropy (translated as “love of humanity”).

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Play to Your Strengths: Where Do You Add Most Value?

Strength Weight LiftingHere’s the deal: When you match people to environments or roles congruent with their skills, knowledge and strengths, they’ll do better.

Reading this statement, it appears patently obvious. But… how many businesses operate this way. Does yours?

This post was inspired by one of Seth Godin’s thought-provoking, minimalist posts. As always, he manages to convey something important and provocative in very few words. This time, he got me considering the way nonprofits structure job descriptions and conduct performance evaluations. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this, as in my three decades of in-the-trenches practice I wrote a lot of the former and conducted a lot of the latter.

In the early years, I made the mistake of putting people into rather rigid boxes. This was not good for the people stuck inside, nor was it good for the organization as a whole.  Later, I learned to be more flexible and play to people’s strengths.

Before I get specific, here comes the Godin post that stimulated this little rant.

Building, breaking, fixing

We spend some of our time building things, from scratch. New ideas, new projects, new connections. Things that didn’t exist before we arrived.

We spend some of our time breaking things, using them up, discovering the edges.

And we spend some of our time fixing things. Customer support, maintenance, bug fixes… And most of all, answering email and grooming social media. The world needs fixing, it always does.

You’ve already guessed the questions:

— where do you personally add the most value?

— how much of your time are you spending doing that?

What follows is a bit of thinking out loud.  I hope it will inspire you as well. If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

The “Peter Principle” Problem

If you look at a nonprofit organizational chart, too often you’ll see job titles that no longer describe what the folks in them are doing.  Sadly, the “Peter Principle” is alive and well. Folks rise to the level of their incompetence, and the function they are supposed to be performing gets shoved to the back burner.

This can lead to hidden organizational inefficiencies. For example:

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