Back to Basics: How Nonprofits Can Combat Donor Decline in 2018 (and Forever)

June 11, 2018

You’ve heard the rumors, but are they true? Are fewer Americans giving to charity? 

Where Are My Donors?, a new Chronicle of Philanthropy article sheds some light on how rates have dropped. Author and Chronicle Senior Editor Nicole Wallace explains:

Even as “Giving USA” has reported record charitable fundraising three years in a row, the share of Americans who donate to charity is falling. In 2014, the latest year for which data is available, 56 percent of American households made a charitable donation. In 2000, that number was 10 percentage points higher, according to the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Family.  

That trend holds true no matter how the numbers are sliced. Giving declined across every age group and every income and education level. Perhaps most frightening: The share of giving dropped most among 51- to 60-year-olds, who are often bedrock donors.

Uh-oh. These numbers are bad news. As a sector, we’re in trouble. The inescapable truth of the matter is, nonprofits everywhere are experiencing a loss in donors. So what can you do?

It’s time to seek out long-term, sustainable fundraising solutions. Spray and pray fundraising won’t work anymore (not that it ever did). Adding another gala isn’t going to save you. There are bright, shiny objects at every turn, but don’t allow them to distract you. It’s time to get focused on a plan. Figure it out and then go forth and implement.

See, What will actually save your fundraising -- and your organization -- is a return to the basics and a strong focus on donor love and donor care. Click To Tweet

So how do you get there? I’ll break it down for you.

  1. Start where you’re at. Dive into your donor database and get to know your donors on a deeper level. What are your loyal donors’ reasons for giving? Rather than running the usual report of your top 20 donors, try running a loyal donor report. Connect with them. Could you thank them for their support and find out why they’re so committed to your organization? Try mailing out a handful of personalized loyal supporter survey letters a week.
  2. Remember, email matters more than ever right now. Did you know that email is the most effective digital channel for converting donations? How are you connecting with prospective donors and growing your email list? Your website is your best tool for making these things happen. Not only is it a reflection of your identity and mission, it’s a space where donors can connect with you. The relationship between your website and your email list is vital, so tap into it. If you’re serious about building your email list, put on your creativity cap and consider one big list-building campaign every year, like this one. And before you dive into ANY digital campaign, examine your systems carefully.
  3. Ask yourself this every day: how are your donors making a difference through youReinforce the impact of your donor’s gift over and over and over again. Donor communication is key and so is keeping your supporters front and center. It’s like the late and great Maya Angelou said…

    I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

    Make your nonprofit unforgettable to your donors by making them feel good! If you share their impact with them through gratitude and you do it often, you can’t go wrong, so make it a habit! When your work relies on donor power, there are countless ways to communicate your thanks. There are countless ways to resonate with the people who are creating positive change through you. There are no limits to gratitude, as its possibilities are truly endless.

  4. Start a major gifts program. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project notes that 88% of all fundraising dollars are generated from just 12% of all donors. What nonprofit doesn’t want a consistent monthly revenue stream as part of their fundraising? And it goes beyond monthly giving, too: 75% of charitable bequests now come from monthly donors! And a bequest (legacy gift) is actually seven times more likely from a monthly donor.You need a targeted major gift fundraising program if you don’t already have one. But how do you find the time? How do you get your board and staff involved? How do you find those major donors…and get up the courage to actually ask?  Getting Started With Major Gift Fundraising to the rescue! It’s back and better than ever. In just two hours a week, this four-week comprehensive class will give you and your nonprofit the tools you need for launching and rocking your major gift program. Get in on it while you still can!
  5. Which leads us to planned giving. Planned giving is often that one thing that nonprofits everywhere struggle to talk about. But when it comes to taking control of your future and taking account of donor decline, planned giving needs to be a part of your big picture if it isn’t yet. You need to learn how to not only talk about it, but navigate its ins and outs. If the idea overwhelms you, start out small and build on up. Better yet, check out Planned Giving Intensive | Basics & More, which launched earlier this year. If you missed out on it, don’t worry. We’ll be relaunching it soon over at Basics & More U. Let it be your four-week comprehensive A to Z guide to legacy gifts, and invite your nonprofit team on board to work and learn with you.

Is our future uncertain as the numbers are leading us believe? It doesn’t have to be, and it won’t be if you know what steps to take. In fact, I promise that if you not only return to the basics, but work toward perfecting them, that your future stands an amazing chance. Take a good hard look at how you’re treating your donors — how you’re communicating with them, and especially how you’re thanking them. Examine the systems and processes you’ve got in place right now. I’ll always be here to offer affordable solutions for nonprofits everywhere. Why? Because so many nonprofits aren’t there yet, and in our chaotic world, it’s easy to get distracted and lose your way. But when you’ve got access to the right tools, it makes your journey a lot less confusing.

You know now, more than ever, that great systems are a necessity. Now more than ever, you should think of systems as your protection. If you aren’t there yet and attrition rates have you in a panic, understand this: you’ve got the power to combat donor decline, but only when you consistently focus on the right things.

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