What Happened Next Will Shock You

October 10, 2018

It was just another day at work in my home office when I stumbled across one of those heartwarming stories from Humans of New York (HONY). I’m sure you know HONY, the Facebook photoblog founded and lead by Brandon Stanton. HONY seeks to share the stories and innermost secrets of humans everywhere.

A particular story caught my eye. It was about a young man, recently released from prison, who was working to turn his life around. In typical HONY fashion, those commenting on the post were effusive in their encouragement and ideas for the young man. One of them posted the contact information for a nonprofit agency in the city. This organization worked with formerly incarcerated individuals to help them obtain college degrees.

I paid a visit to the organization’s website. And I impulsively made a monthly donation to this small nonprofit.

What happened next shouldn’t have surprised me. But it did.

I got an automated email receipt and then…crickets.

With each passing month, the agency dinged my credit card. I never once heard from them.

Why did I donate to that organization out of the blue? What made me pull out my credit card and commit to a monthly gift for this tiny nonprofit?

Here’s the back story: early in my career, I served as an Aide to a state legislator who was Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee of Corrections. I spent those years traveling the state, visiting most of our prisons. I worked with an organization within the state’s largest prison to fight for prisoners’ rights. I witnessed firsthand the horrors, not to mention the utter degradation of the American prison system. We have the largest prison population in the world, and our system is deeply flawed. Don’t even get me started on the privatization of prisons, which is pure evil.

You could say I have a passion for prison and judicial reform.

Why am I telling you all this?

It’s quite simple.

Your donors share your passion.

Your passion for social justice. Your passion for education. Your passion for the environment. Your passion for music. Your passion for gardens. Your passion for the arts. Your passion for women’s rights. Your passion for the animals. Your passion for diversity. Your passion for accessible healthcare.

They want to play a role.

Why, then, are we, as a sector, treating donors like garbage?

The latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) comparing the first six months of 2018 with those of 2017 reveal that:

  • Total donors are down 6.6%
  • New donors are down 9.2%
  • New retained donors are down 18%
  • Repeat retained donors are down 2.1%
  • Retention is down 6.4%
  • For the past decade overall donor retention rates have been below 50% and are getting worse. The overall rate now stands at 45.5%.

And retention for newly acquired donors stands at an appalling 23%. 

When you fail to focus on donor retention… 
When you neglect caring for the donors you already have… 
When you fail to thank. With genuine, heartfelt gratitude…

…You are making your job much harder than it is.

You do realize that you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of Oprah stumbling onto your organization’s website and making a multimillion dollar gift, right? (And even if she did, she might give up in disgust after trying to make it through your god-awful donation process.)

You do realize that adding yet another event will not save you (and will probably stress out your staff to the point where more decide to quit)?  I seriously saw this posted in a Facebook group (and wanted to vomit):

Your loyal donors, your monthly donors, your major donors, your legacy donors…those relationships will not magically arrive on your doorstep via the next bright shiny digital campaign. They are cultivated by the systems you put into place. And they begin and end with gratitude.

Your loyal donors, your monthly donors, your major donors, your legacy donors…those relationships will not magically arrive on your doorstep via the next bright shiny digital campaign. They are cultivated by the… Click To Tweet

Our work as fundraisers is not going to get easier in the upcoming years. Don’t make it even tougher.

Know your numbers.

And then make a plan to thank your donors. To understand your donors. To love your donors. To show them that their support made a difference.

And rinse and repeat.

It really is that simple.

Resources & Downloads

How are you thanking your donors? Download your Thank You Letter Template

Make a plan to keep those new donors. Download  the New Donor Timeline.

Why do your supporters care? Put the systems in place to find out.

What does a new donor Welcome Pack look like?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice Fonger October 11, 2018 at 9:10 am

Pamela. You are right on. While your article is shocking it is by no means surprising. It’s quite sad that organizations don’t see the value or make the time to connect with their donors. We hear all the time from donors about how they feel when the organization says “thank you” and when the organization does more than just “ask”. It makes a huge difference in retention rates. It really does. Maybe if we retained more donors by showing them authentic love and appreciation we wouldn’t have to invest so much time and resources in insignificant events.

Pamela Grow October 11, 2018 at 9:58 am

Thanks so much for commenting, Janice. I have that quote from Maya Angelou above my desk: “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.” With every step of the donor cultivation process, how are you making your donors feel about their support?

Dennis Fischman October 11, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Pamela, that “ISO event recommendations” post? It makes me sick, too, but even more, it makes me want to stage an intervention. The nonprofit is abusing its Development Director and hurting itself. Cultivating your donors is not only more lucrative, it heals the soul!

Pamela Grow October 11, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Couldn’t agree more, Dennis! I wonder if this kind of thinking is partly the result of introvert vs extrovert leadership? I recently had a conversation with one of our students, a DD, who is working hard on retaining and growing the relationships with the donors they have (a great donor base, btw). But her ED, an extrovert, is dragging her from her work with an event almost every month! Thanks for commenting.

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