Are you ignoring those who love you most?

Published by Margaux Smith on

acquisition-vs-retention-500x392It’s pretty much impossible to be a fundraiser these days and not be thinking an awful lot about retention. As a sector, we’re losing more donors than we’re bringing in, and it’s getting scary to think about where we might be in 10 or 20 years if this keeps up.

Like most of you, this issue is often on my mind, not only as a fundraiser, but as a donor too. I’ve seen plenty of charities starting to focus on good donor retention programs for face to face and DM recruits (sorry Tony!). They’re improving their welcome process and thank you letters – some are even feeding back regularly on what the donor’s gifts are accomplishing. I do hope these actions will make a big difference and bring in more funds for those in need.

But I can’t help but feel that there is an incredible group of loyal and passionate donors out there who are overlooked and forgotten in almost every instance – the donors who aren’t recruited at all…

I’m talking about the people who seek you out and give without solicitation.

These are the donors who are simply passionate about a cause and will look for a charity that can help them fulfil their own personal mission, creating the world they hope for.

They care more deeply about your cause than maybe even you yourself. These are people who have thought long and hard about making their gift, and then proudly followed through, hoping to make a difference – and, in my experience, they are the most likely to hear nothing from you. At best, they’ll get a welcome pack and then get dropped into the warm appeal file. At best.

Now, even in my own mind, this is somewhat controversial. How much effort should we put into these donors? I still remember hearing about this from Alan Clayton a few years ago (I wrote about it here). He made the point that there are three types of people:


  • those who will always give to your charity, no matter how badly you treat them (within reason),
  • those who may give to your charity, if asked in the right way,
  • and those who will never give, no matter how hard you try.

Alan urged fundraisers to focus nearly all their attention on the Maybes, because to spend resources elsewhere is a waste of time and donor dollars.

I’ve very aware that I’m arguing against this very good point by speaking up for the Always group. But it really has struck me that these people have more potential than anyone for the highest lifetime values. Those who care enough to have approached you in the first place seem like the most likely to give regular gifts, help with community fundraising, and ultimately, leave you a gift in their Will.

Chuck Longfield, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist at Blackbaud, has often advised to watch for donors who contact you with their change of address. These people are telling you that they want to keep hearing from you, and care enough to remember you during the chaos of a move.

So, if you see someone start a regular gift out of the blue from your webpage, or make an unexpected phone call to donate, don’t they seem to fall into the same change of address category? If nothing else, it should be worth a follow up call in a few months, just to ask ‘why did you first decide to support us?’ I bet you’re likely to hear some passionate responses.

But why on earth should they do anything other than continue to give that $15 a month (as your website/marketing department suggested when they signed up) if they never hear from you?

That seems like an awfully big missed opportunity to me.

Margaux Smith

Margaux is currently living in Sydney, Australia, working closely with incredible clients at Flat Earth Direct, creating digital and direct mail campaigns with them to help change the world. This Canadian fundraiser misses her compatriots in London and Toronto, where she learned almost everything she knows, but is enjoying the Australian sunshine a little too much to leave any time soon.


Paul Bobnak · November 20, 2013 at 02:52

First, good luck in Australia!

Second, this is a good take on a problem I’ve seen first-hand with some non-profits (outside of my work, I mean). I’ve volunteered my time as well as money because there are some causes I’m passionate about. Some groups just happen to correspond nicely with them. And, as you said, these are cases where I am the one who initiated the relationship. For the most part, I’ve been often disappointed by the response.

Maybe there’s a lack of institutional memory with the large turnover in the sector, so a name that may have been important to someone else doesn’t have that same meaning. Maybe it’s a skill that needs to be developed, to see donors or members who jump out at you for being special and to nourish that relationship.

Claire Axelrad · December 1, 2013 at 02:33

Thoughtful post. In the ideal world we’d be able to devote resources to both the “always” and the “maybe” groups. And I think we should. What this argues for is spending more on fundraising/stewardship. If we can let go of the outdated notion that overhead must be as low as humanly possible to demonstrate efficiency, we may be able to migrate to “effective” as a better measure of success. A charity that spends 30% on overhead and retains and upgrades significantly more supporters than the charity spending 20% on fundraising may end up with more dollars in the long run.

Fundraisingwoche vom 18.11.-24.11.2013 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · November 25, 2013 at 18:01

[…] Little Known Ways to Gain Mobile Supporters 101Fundraising: Are you ignoring those who love you most? Donor Dreams: Does your organization have a culture of philanthropy or fundraising? Veritus: Five […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *