How Does Your Garden Grow?

Published by Tony Elischer on

The New Lexicon of Fundraising Part 7

As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than the destination.’

One of the most shameful statistics of 2013 came out of the AFP Fundraising Effectiveness report that concluded that overall donor retention was now only 39% in the USA! So allow me to state the obvious and increase the shame, this means that 61% of donors either lapse, don’t give again or ignore any on-going communication. We all know that where the US market goes Europe and others tend to follow and to be frank I don’t think the UK is far behind this already. So, is philanthropy and giving simply going out of fashion? Or is it that we should accept the low attention spans that people now have when it comes to brands and engagement? Or should we get closer to the truth and take responsibility for this shameful performance and admit our over use of ‘interruptive marketing’, our over focus on recruitment as opposed to donor development and our general lack of skills at engaging and delighting the donors who do give us a chance and ‘try us out’?

journeyWe now all work in a world with more available channels than ever in the history of mankind and people are living a more connected and information rich life than before. I always look on the positive side and truly believe that there is good in everyone and start from a point that the vast majority of people want to give and engage with charity, but always on their terms and to match their life-stage and lifestyle. In this series of blogs I have tried to emphasise that giving is about people and their needs, it is not primarily about our needs; we provide the opportunity for people to express their values and feel some significance from their giving in making or leaving the world a better place. So against this background people will ‘shop around’ seeking the best match to their needs and style. New propositions, new creative and pressure from the actions of others will also constantly tempt people to give to other charities and campaigns. We invest heavily in getting people to make the initial move or response to our propositions but we clearly don’t move quickly enough to reinforce and build on this moment of action from a new donor.

Back to the new lexicon and the power of words for some fresh thinking. Charities invest considerable time in donor development strategies and communication cycles, but these are often too theoretical, lack flexibility, lack ‘rapid test cycles’ and, generally, do not prioritise the power of data integrated with great marketing and communication. All of this is often coupled with an overall lack of dedication, investment and creativity to this vital area of income. So I want to go back fifteen years to a time when we started talking about a ‘supporter journey’, a simple framework that forced fundraisers to define a range of different programmes that could be offered and introduced to supporters in the spirit of giving them somewhere to ‘move to’ and increasing their level of engagement with the charity. The key to this was the thinking that as soon as a supporter stepped forward, we saw them as joining the charity on a journey, hopefully for a lifetime.

Many people have become sceptical of such simple straightforward thinking, declaring that supporters don’t follow journeys, but that is the point our job is to encourage them and be one step ahead with new opportunities to interest and inspire them. Every action a supporter takes is part of a journey, a journey to a greater relationship with the charity and ultimately, for a small number of supporters, a sense of belonging and loyalty to a charity brand. We live in a time when charities over-engineer things to the point where strategies, processes and reporting slow them down, we need to keep simplicity at the front of our mind and deploy all the sophisticated thinking to develop a ‘journey’ that keeps donors exploring and responding to our work. We need to integrate our thinking so that we avoid ‘dropping’ donors into an on-going predefined communications cycle. One size does not fit all, it never did and it never will!

I have always been a great believer in the concept of relationship fundraising, but for most charities and for the majority of the database this is a very challenging piece of thinking, so I tend to take one step back and focus more on helping people to ‘belong’ to something. Human beings are social animals and very tribal so I think the future is about more ‘movements’ to which people can align their values, resources and affinity. In the new lexicon it is an interesting filter to think through how we can create a sense of belonging for donors, a feeling where they are in control and it is on their terms. I believe that a sense of belonging nurtured over time will lead to a relationship; once again we move back in time to reinvent and reinvigorate ‘movements’, a proven historical approach that has literally changed the world.



Everyone has a unique gift to initiate change and truly achieve great things in fundraising through the power of their words and mindset. This eight part blog series will challenge and inspire you by outlining new words, new language and new ways not only to think about fundraising but to transform your strategy and day-to-day actions.
Earlier published blogs are:

Tony Elischer

Tony Elischer

Tony has over 30 years hands on experience in the not for profit sector. He has been a consultant for the last fourteen years working at the highest level across a wide range of causes and organisations and is the founder of the leading international consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions. He is an internationally regarded expert on fundraising and marketing, having extensive experience of helping charities worldwide with strategy, fundraising, management and troubleshooting. In the last 12 months he has worked in over 20 countries.


Steve · December 11, 2013 at 20:37

39 is a low donor retention rate. I wonder why it is so low. Current donors in large part should be the individuals to focus on.

    Tony Elischer · December 12, 2013 at 09:05

    I agree Steve, low and shameful. I think we would all agree one of the main driving forces is the method of recruitment and hence the level of true connection from the outset. People will respond to intrusive marketing, but they then see this as a one off transaction.

Fundraisingwoche vom 02.-08.12.2013 | sozialmarketing.de - wir lieben Fundraising · December 9, 2013 at 18:01

[…] How Does Your Garden Grow? Donor Dreams: What have you done to increase individual giving? Kivi’s Blog: 6 Tips for […]

Leave a Reply

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