Everything that is wrong with our retention programmes and how to put them right

Published by Charlie Hulme on

Is anyone’s loyalty programme actually working (and, just to clarify, I’m using the more traditional definition of ‘working’ as you used to lose loads of donors but now you don’t)?

I’ve never met anyone (who wasn’t selling such a programme) who could answer ‘yes’. But that doesn’t stop us squandering enormous amounts of time, energy and money on an entirely unproven ‘best’ practise that’s making things worse. I know several fundraising directors who know for sure retention got worse after they introduced their loyalty programmes. But they continue to run them. It would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. untitled

No one has been able to provide a shred of hard evidence that these programmes make any long term difference. Yet collectively we squander millions of donated money into them while continuing to lose up to 90%+ of our newly acquired donor’s year on year. The only people for whom these costly programmes work are the agencies and consultants selling them!

You can’t go to a conference or read a blog without being preached to about how important it is to say ‘thank you’ and show outcomes. And of course that’s true. But when did these things become separate and apart from fundraising? When did we tell ourselves that asking for money equated to fund raising and that saying thank you for the money equated to fund maintenance? If you are working with that formula you are doing neither well.

So what’s the alternative?

Getting past the overly simplistic view that loyalty can be built in a day and realising it has to be built day by day. Understanding that loyalty isn’t created as the result of the ‘loyalty’ experience you offer, but rather is a result of a donors attitude towards the sum total of experiences they have with you.

Think of the enormous volume of experiences, or touchpoints, your organization creates, not just in fundraising but across every department. Every single thing you deliver, tangible or intangible, influences attitudes and has an effect on loyalty. The trouble is you have no way of knowing whether it’s having a good effect or a bad one. Of course you can say appeal X did better than appeal Y. But can you say how appeal X influenced attitudes towards appeal Y?

And that’s just in the microcosm of one campaign to the next. What happens when you throw everything else that you and the rest of your organization does into the mix, things that have no direct value attached? Your magazine for example, does it help or harm? Most charities have one, most ask for money, most make a big financial loss. To your CFO it’s a red number that needs to be ditched. But many fundraisers believe it adds value; that donors appreciate it, and that in turn it positively influences attitudes towards future giving. They just have no way of knowing.

But now they can. Thanks to a remarkable study into measuring and influencing donor attitudes you can discover precisely what makes a committed donor. This study was carried out across 250+ organizations around the world. I’ll be presenting the findings at this year’s IFC alongside Giles Pegram and Francesco Ambrogetti in our Masterclass ‘Everything that is wrong with our retention programmes and how to put them right’ and workshops ‘The answer to your retention problems’.

img (2)We’ll deconstruct precisely why what we’re doing right now isn’t working and show you how to put it right. You’ll see how every experience and touchpoint you create can be viewed through the lens of an attitudinal commitment model and given a precise financial value. In other words you’ll be able to see which, of all the experiences you create, matter and are causal of loyalty and which don’t and aren’t. From there you’ll be able to create a donor led strategic blueprint, of the current world you serve up, telling you exactly what needs to be kept, fixed, scaled or ditched.

Take a moment to let that last sentence sink in…

Today you’re spending an enormous amount of time, energy and money to deliver a huge range of experiences. Some matter and some don’t, but you don’t know which are which. From now on you can.

IFC’s theme this year is ‘Inspire. Connect. Transform’. It’s a goal we should all aspire to. But if our planning is based on guesswork rather than knowledge that’s all we can do; aspire, not achieve.  How can you inspire someone without knowing what inspires them? How can you connect with someone if you don’t know what they want to connect to? What can you transform if you don’t know the answers to the first two?

But thanks to this study you’ll soon know everything that is wrong with our retention programmes and how to put them right.

This post is part of the 2014 IFC Series. 101fundraising is proud to be the blog partner of the International Fundraising Congress!

International Fundraising Congress (IFC)



Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Charlie is MD of Donor Voice. He helps charities uncover what, of all the things they do, cause relationship strength and what is harmful. Partners see a massive improvement in performance, value and retention. Voted top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising's National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101 Fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.


Terry van den Bemt · August 19, 2014 at 17:14

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for your blog. I will make sure I will be in the room at the IFC!

As the relation expert that you are, I want to share some footage with you. It’s a case wich has tributed to a better emotional bonding between consumers and an energy company in the Netherlanths.

Maybe it can help you to inspire you to find new ways of using touch points and achieving more commitment. Or maybe, it don.t..;)

Take care!

Terry van den Bemt
ps. It’s in Dutch….

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[…] Everything that is wrong with our retention programmes and how to put them right […]

Fundraising Friday | August 22, 2014 | Pamela Grow · August 22, 2014 at 16:27

[…] The best fundraisers know: this ain’t no instant pudding.  Building donor loyalty is a constant process.  New from 101 Fundraising, Everything Wrong Retention Programmes Put Right. […]

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