All posts pertaining to the philosophy named donor-centered fundraising and espoused by Penelope Burk

Don’t sing the ‘goodbye song’ to your non-profit donors

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, I am focusing on a post that John wrote about attribution theory and contingency theory based upon a “classroom song” story that a friend shared with him over a fierce game of Scrabble. After reading his post, a song jumped into my head from my days at Grace Pre-School in Mount Prospect, Illinois. It goes something like this:

“Grace Pre-School is over and its time for us to go home;
Goodbye, goodbye;
Be always kind and good;
Goodbye, goodbye;
Be always kind and good.”

That was the song we sang at the end of the day when it was time to pack-up and go home. I can’t believe how four decades later that song sprung into my head as conveniently as if I had just sung it yesterday.

At the ripe old age of four, that pre-school song helped me bring the school day to a close. It reminded me to put my toys away, say goodbye to my friends, get my coat and bag, find my Mom, and leave the building without shedding a tear. It only worked within the confines of the church that housed my pre-school program. It didn’t result in me being “kind and good” . . . you can ask my Mom and she’ll tell you that I could be a terror on certain days.

To think that singing my pre-school — anywhere and anytime — would yield the same results or “cause” me to be “kind and good” is quite simply misattribution.

In the non-profit fundraising world, we do this all the time with donors and it goes something like this:

  • Contribution comes into the office,
  • The contribution is entered into the donor database,
  • The computer generates a thank you letter that is sent to the donor,
  • The donor gets added to a newsletter mailing list, and they receive a few newsletters,
  • Another solicitation is made that results in another contribution.

Cha-ching!  The donor is conditioned. The money rolls in. It is oh so simple. I can almost hear fundraising professionals singing a song that goes something like this:


Cause and effect is such a great thing until you realize that you’ve attributed the wrong stimulus to the wrong results.

Penelope Burk, CEO of Cygnus Applied Research, does a great job in this interview with The Chronicle of Philanthropy of debunking the myths associated with singing the donor song. She points to research illustrating how the average non-profit loses 50% of donors somewhere between their first and second contribution to their agency.

Huh?  I wonder if those fundraising professionals mistakenly sang my pre-school “goodbye song” to their donors instead of the “money song”.  LOL

All kidding aside, Burk is the queen of “Donor-Centered Fundraising” which tells us that cookie cutter approaches to donor stewardship result in high turnover rates. Donors stop donating because they feel “over-solicited”.  Many fundraising professionals hear this and think that fewer solicitations are the remedy. This conclusion is simply not true. Burk does a great job of explaining the subtle nuances behind “over-solicitation” in The Chronicle of Philanthropy interview:

“. . . over-solicitation is not a frequency of asks in a set period of time; rather, it is being asked to give again before donors are satisfied about what happened with their last gift.”

Let’s bottom-line this . . .

  • Every donor is like a snowflake — they’re different.
  • Everyone has a different threshold for what they need to see in order to be satisfied about what happened with their last gift.
  • No one responds to the same stewardship activities the same way.

When Burk talks about being “donor-centered,” she is really saying that we need to get to know our donors individually. We need to craft stewardship strategies around donors’ needs and preferences in order to avoid “over-solicitation”.

Am I hearing some of you mutter words like “crazy” and “impossible“? If so, then I encourage you to dwell and explore the following ideas:

  • database contact records
  • segmentation
  • surveys
  • discussions
  • focus groups
  • stewardship plan

My parting advice to you is stop misattributing the “money song” to securing donations because you are losing half of your donors after their first contribution and 90% by the fifth gift. Read up on the concepts of “Attribution Theory” and “Contingency Theory” and stop singing the “Goodbye song” to your donors.

How does your non-profit organization customize its stewardship activities to individual donors? Do you just do so for your major gift prospects? Where do you store your individualized stewardship plans? What role does your donor database play in managing your Moves Management program? Can you share your success results? Did your donor loyalty rate improve?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

What’s in your mailbox? Part 2

We started a conversation yesterday about direct mail when I posted “What’s in your mailbox? Part 1“. We looked at a political fundraising piece that showed up in my mailbox from Michelle Obama and dissected it. Today, we’re going to my mailbox and pulling out a newsletter that I recently received from Michael Noland, who is my state senator.

As I said yesterday, I believe “the average American can become educated about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to direct mail if they only pay attention to what is being sent to them, what they are opening (or not opening), and how and what they’re reading (or not reading).”

So, let’s open this newsletter and see what we’ve got.

The front page is actually quite simple. It contains a two paragraph letter from the senator explaining that the legislative session that just ended was busy. It essentially invites me to open the newsletter for an update on “what’s happened, the legislation he sponsored, and what he’s done to fight for me.”

Hmmm . . . the feel and tone of the letter makes this newsletter seem more like campaign literature. To be honest, I am hesitant to turn to page two; however, I will do so for you, my dear reader.  😉

This is a four page newsletter. So, when I turn the page I am looking at the middle of the newsletter — pages two and three. Here is what I am starting to notice:

  • Lots of pictures (four to be exact)
  • 18 point font headlines and 14 point news copy
  • Headlines are in color

I suspect the senator is concerned about senior citizens not being able to read his newsletter, which is why everything is so big.

You’ve heard it a million times . . . a picture is worth a thousand words. All of the pictures are of the senator doing something. He is talking to a concerned older couple. He is delivering the commencement speech at Elgin Community College (ECC). Since most people won’t spend more than as few seconds with this mail piece, pictures become very important in conveying quick information. In this instance, the senator obviously is trying to send the message that he is working hard on your behalf.

In a previous life, when I ran a weekly newspaper, we learned from reader surveys that big pictures and headlines were the first thing to which people paid attention. If the picture or headline was interesting, then they would make the decision to read the article. It is obvious that this newsletter is designed with thatsame principle in mind.

I don’t believe people read much anymore, which is an ironic observation for a blogger like myself to make. What I do believe is that people skim, and I suspect the senator believes the same thing when I look at his newsletter copy.

There are seven mini-articles with topics ranging from public employee pension costs and healthcare to child welfare and veterans. Nothing is more than one paragraph in length. It is written in the first person and very action oriented with phrases like:

  • “I co-sponsored . . .”
  • “I fought . . .”
  • “I believe . . .”

To translate all of this into non-profit terms, the senator is demonstrating to the voting public the return on investment for your vote. This is simply the senator stewarding voters in much the same way you steward your donors. The only difference is that you want your donors to renew their financial support and the senator wants people to vote for him again.

Let’s turn the page and look at the back of the newsletter.

I am invited to stay informed and encouraged to routinely visit the senator’s webpage for updates, news and email access. There is a monstrously large QR code on the page that I can scan with my cell phone, and it will take me to his website instantly.

Here are a few best practices that we can take away from our dissection of the senator’s newsletter today:

  1. Be mindful of font size, especially if your donors are older.
  2. Use lots of pictures to communicate information quickly.
  3. Use color and big headlines to make things pop off the page and generate interest in reading the newsletter copy.
  4. People skim . . . so keep stgories short and snappy. Short sentences and very few paragraphs.
  5. Cross-channel marketing . . . use the newsletter to drive people to your website where you can spend more time with them and go into more detail.

Personally speaking, I really dislike newsletters like this one. I believe that the typical slick/glossy, one color, four page newsletter is a thing of the past. I really liked the previous piece sent out by the senator. It was a one page bulletin that looked like what Penelope Burk describes in her book “Donor Centered Fundraising“.

If you are interested in learning more about what donor bulletins looks like and why they are more preferred by your donors, then I suggest that you go back and read the following three blog posts from last year:

If you want to see a copy of Senator Noland’s most recent newsletter so that you can compare it to what you read in these three donor-centered newsletter posts, then click here.

Does your non-profit organization use a newsletter to steward supporters and donors? Are you happy with it? What have you found in your experience works or doesn’t work? Please use the comment box below to share with your fellow non-profit professionals.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Are non-profits YELLING at their donors using social media?

For a moment this morning, please picture this fictional situation.

You are sitting at Starbucks enjoying your favorite beverage. The music is soothing. The place is buzzing. The smell of baked goods is in the air. Perhaps, you’re engaged in a little people watching. You might also be eavesdropping on an interesting conversation at the table next to you. Ahhhhhh . . . this is a great place to be.

Suddenly, a wild-eyed person bursts through the door and makes a beeline right over to your table. They are loud. They are obnoxious. This mild acquaintance is talking at you, and there is seemingly no place in the conversation for you to get a word in edgewise. You focus in on what they’re saying (in an effort to find a way into the conversation):

  • Hi, my name is ________
  • I was born in Anywhere, USA.
  • I am ___ years old
  • I like cookies
  • I won a silver media in the fourth grade during field day
  • I like shiny objects

You think to yourself, “Why do I want to know all of this?” You also get annoyed because your peaceful and serene happy place quickly evaporated because of this person who you don’t know very well.

Believe it or not, this story might describe how your non-profit organization is behaving on social media platforms.

Many of your donors go to places like Facebook to find “fun” and “love”. They are relaxing, catching up with friends and family, and just chillin’ out. When out of the blue you (and other agencies) start shouting various things. Let’s look at some real Facebook posts from non-profits who I follow (I won’t attribute names in order to protect the innocent).

  • Oh! Oh! Look at me, look at me:  “School is back in session!  Let’s make this year GREAT!!  Welcome back the kids!”
  • Oh! Oh! Look at me, look at me: “As you watch the Olympics this week, 1-get psyched up for our week-long competition next week, 2-admire how the font you see on TV for the Olympics is the exact same we used on our summer flier!”
  • Oh! Oh! Look at me, look at me: “Please vote many times.  Takes seconds to do.  Click.  Enter info.  Vote.  Done.  Round 1 almost over.”

Many of you might be wondering, “What’s the point?” After all, isn’t social media the place that your agency is supposed to engage and cultivate new prospective donors and steward existing donors?

Yes, social media is a place to engage people. It is even a place where you can promote yourself. However, too many non-profit agencies in my opinion have the proportions way off. There are three specific goals that your written social media plan should have:

  1. Networking
  2. Promoting
  3. Sharing

Chris Abrams wrote a great blog post over at Marketing Conversation titled “Stop shouting and start listening to your social media fans“. While his audience is for-profit companies, I think he is right on target for non-profits as well when he says: “. . . social media is two-thirds defense and monitoring — listening — and only one-third promotion and publicity — speaking.”

Think of it this way . . . social media is a “conversation” between you and your donors, and you need to do at least as much listening as you do talking (if not more).

When I started getting more active in social media, the one person who I read a lot of was Beth Kanter. One of the most important things I once read in her blog was that it is OK for a non-profit organization to start their social media efforts slowly by setting up their platform, connecting with friends, and just listening for the first year.

Click here to read a little bit more about listening from Beth and her guest bloggers on the subject of “listening”.

I suggest that you revisit your social media strategy and stop YELLING things about yourself to your supporters. Here are a few quick suggestions:

  1. If you haven’t written a social media plan yet, gather a few donors and supporters and get to work.
  2. If you don’t have written social media policies, then ask the same group of donors and supporters to help.
  3. Post more pictures of what you do because a picture is worth a thousand words.
  4. Ask more questions and use fewer declarative sentences.
  5. Use social media as a funnel by capturing someone’s attention and sending them to your website if they want to learn more.
  6. Engage your donors and supporters in a conversation about what content they would like to see.

Last week, Marissa (the person you read on Mondays at DonorDreams blog) and I attended a social media conference. I will share a few things that we learned over the next few days. So, please stay tuned!

Does your non-profit organization use social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blog, etc)? If so, what has been your experience so far? What challenges are you running into? Please share your thoughts and question in the comment box below. I will “listen” and attempt to “engage” you in a conversation.   😉

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Advice for all non-profits: “It is time to talk human again!”

So, I was sitting in my living room watching television and trying to multitask last night when one of the commercials that I was trying to ignore jumped out of my television, grabbed me by my shirt collar and shook me hard. It was an advertisement by Skype and it was very cute.  You probably know which one I am talking about . . . it is the commercial with the middle school aged boy and girl passing notes in class. I’ve embedded it below if you want to view it again.


I especially love the following line in this ad:

“Long before email threads, we turned to each other. It is when the spirit of collaboration meant more than an ‘FYI’ or ‘Reply All’. When messages were passed along by simple gestures, validated by an honest expression.”

Long after this commercial was over, my mind kept straying back to it. I must have re-played it over and over and over again in my head all night long. After a few hours, it dawned on me that there is something about this message that obviously resonates with me and my point of view about non-profit organizations.

For the last few years, I became more focused on using technology to engage people (e.g. non-profit clients, donors, board volunteers, etc) in a way that felt efficient and productive. Thinking back on it, I have tried all sorts of technology tools all in the name of saving time:

  • Email (Ugh . . . I can send wickedly long emails with lots of detail)
  • Google Docs
  • GoToMeeting
  • Conference call bridges
  • e-newsletters

I suspect this trend is rooted in the idea of being respectful of a donor and volunteer’s time. After all, life is so busy and very fast nowadays. However, are we really being more efficient? Are we really getting more done? Are we really simplifying things or do our efforts really just de-humanize the experience and end up doing more harm than good?

I think United Airlines hit the nail on the head more than 20 years ago when they run this iconic television ad:


Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I believe technology is here to stay, and we all better learn how to appropriately use it to keep our donors and volunteers informed and engaged.

I suspect that technology will also continue to creep into our lives and become a stronger fundraising solicitation tool over the next decade. I also suspect that more and more board and committee meetings will happen over Skype and other online video platforms.

Before you totally surrender your non-profit and its relationships to the “Technology Gods,” I encourage you to take the following advice from our friends at United Airlines and Skype:

  • Scale back your email and non-personal technology efforts with volunteers and donors.
  • Don’t make-up reasons for volunteers to attend a committee meeting or board meeting. Make sure that the agenda contains important stuff.
  • Don’t make-up reasons to sit down with a donor. Make sure every touch is engaging, enlightening, fulfilling, and fun for them. It is more about them and less about you. Right? Connecting people with your mission in an emotional way is a recipe for success! And technology is anti-emotional.
  • Visit people in-person, but do so in a way that feels important and not a waste of time.
  • Try your hand at online video conferencing. Of all the technology available to you, this one somewhat allows some sense of personal interaction. Start small with an individual or committee first.

I think we can embrace technology in a way that makes sense and is not de-humanizing. It will take a conscious effort on your part. Are you up to the challenge? Or are you just going to continue ‘forwarding’ that email thread with an attachment and clicking ‘reply all”? Please scroll down and share your thoughts about either commercial? Did either have an impact on your non-profit point of view? I would love to hear your thoughts and what you plan on doing about it.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Donor Loyalty: Inspect what you expect

Tuesday’s post titled “Time in the office versus time with donors” begged more questions than it answered. Today, we’re going to zoom in on one of those questions and examine it more closely.

How do you measure relationship building
and the success of such activities?

It was suggested in earlier posts that a weekly contact report is one tool that can be used to track relationship building activities; however, there are other tools that you should consider using in conjunction with a contact report.

  • Dashboard
  • Scorecard
  • Annual performance plan
  • Weekly or monthly reports
  • Donor database reports
  • Moves Management reports

If you want to learn more about organizational dashboards, click here to check out a BoardSource book titled “The Nonprofit Dashboard: A Tool for Tracking Progress“. If a dashboard isn’t appealing to you, then you might want to look into a balanced scorecard approach. Click here to see what Bernard Marr at the Advanced Performance Institute has to say about this tool.

Of course, choosing the tool is probably the easiest part of this decision. The more difficult thing is determining which relationship building metrics to track. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Number of cultivation meetings with prospects
  • Increased contribution size – maintained – decreased
  • Number of face-to-face stewardship meetings
  • Number of prospects converted into donors
  • Donor loyalty rate
  • Donor satisfaction survey score
  • Renewal rates for year two, year three, year four, and year five donors
  • LYBUNT and SYBUNT renewals

There are no right or wrong answers to the question of what you should track. I believe that it really boils down to the title of this post: “Inspect what you expect”.

I suppose the best advice I can give to you is “don’t try to make decision by yourself”. I encourage you to engage fundraising staff, resource development committee volunteers, board members, fundraising volunteers, and even donors. There is nothing wrong with pulling together a small focus group, ordering a few pizzas, and engaging them with a few thoughtful questions.

If you are looking for a few good samples, the following are a few links that I think are worth looking at:

Using tools and metrics like these should help you answer the difficult question posed in Tuesday’s blog post: “How much time needs to be spent outside of the office compared to behind your desk?”

What tools does your non-profit organization use to track relationship building and resource development activities? What metrics do you hold your fundraising professionals and executive director to? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Stewarding donors this Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

I always feel funny saying that because this holiday doesn’t feel very happy. After all, it was created to honor Americans who died during war. For many Americans including me, this holiday has taken on additional meaning in that it provides an opportunity to say THANK YOU to all military service men and women for their service.

What can your non-profit organization do to turn Memorial Day into another donor stewardship opportunity? Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a card to those donors who are veterans and thank them for their service. Not only did they service their country, but they invest in their community by supporting your organization as well as many other agencies.
  • Write a letter to the newspaper editor about what Memorial Day means to you and your agency. Remind people that sacrifice is sometime essential to preserve values such as freedom and equality. While honoring the sacrifices made by soldiers for your agency and your community, you can also honor sacrifices of time and money given by volunteers and donors to your organization.
  • Host a patriotic themed stewardship event for your donors.

Non-profit professionals are typically stretched in too many directions because our agencies are under-resourced. It is for this reason that stewardship often becomes a “back burner issue” and low priority. So, why not use big holidays like Memorial Day as anchors in your organizational calendar to remind us to steward our donors?

Does your agency do anything special for Memorial Day? Please scroll down and share your ideas and thoughts.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Work-Life Balance for non-profit professionals? Ask a donor for help.

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “At Peace“. In that post, he talks about two different pictures and uses those images to illustrate the point that there is a difference between “at peace” and “getting some peace”.

After reading this post, I couldn’t get my mind off of the idea of work-life balance. This topic of conversation comes up all the time when I’m talking to non-profit professionals. As I previously blogged about in a post titled “Kissing While Driving for Non-Profit Agencies,” non-profit organizations are typically under-resourced. As a result, almost all nof the on-profit professional who I know wear multiple hats, lack balance in their life, and appear to be on the brink of “going postal”.

At Peace? Definitely NOT!

Over the last 15 years, I’ve battled with the ideas that John eloquently lays out in his blog post. The following are just a few things that I’ve tried:

In hindsight, John is so right . . . I was “getting some peace” in most of those instances. So, what can non-profit professionals do to be “At Peace“????

I like John’s suggestion that re-evaluating and adjusting our expectations about what “peace” really means. In his post, he talks about the picture of a violent waterfall, jagged mountains and an angry sky being a picture of “peace”. Maybe accepting this idea rather than fighting against it is more than half the battle.

I also like John’s challenge at the end of his post where he asks the following question:

“Perhaps, when leaders disrupt our peace when making organizational changes, they should orchestrate efforts to enable us to adapt and change?”

As I contemplate this question, I struggle with what those efforts might look like.

So, I have a suggestion for all of you who find yourself struggling with the same question:

  • Open your donor database.
  • Run a report showing your agency’s top 50 lifetime donors.
  • Scan the list in search of a donor who owns their own business, has gone through some change initiatives in the last few years, and appears to be busy and yet peaceful.
  • Pick-up the phone and call that donor.
  • Invite them out to share a cup of coffee.
  • Tell them about John’s blog post topic.
  • Ask them to share their secrets to success with regards to being “at peace”.
  • Ask them what efforts they orchestrated at work to help their employees adapt and change and in effect putting their workplace “at peace”.

Not only will you most likely get some great advice, but this conversation will have a “stewardship effect” for that donor. It will deepen a relationship with someone who is already important to your organization.

I like this suggestion mostly because it reminds me of the fact that donors are not just ATMs that produce cash every time we ask for it. Donors are friends and part of our non-profit family. We can put this principle in action by asking them to donate their knowledge and experiences in addition to their financial contributions. In doing so, the relationship gets stronger and grows.

Do you struggle with work-life balance issues at your non-profit organization? What have you personally done to try to achieve balance? What has your agency done to help facilitate this idea of being “at peace”? Have you ever engaged donors in questions like this? How did it work out for you?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Happy Birthday to ME! And what can non-profits do with THAT?

Yesterday, one of my favorite non-profit executive directors took the time to wish me an early happy birthday and surprised me with a bottle of wine — La Crema Pinot Noir. It was a thoughtful gesture because my partner and I are big “winos”.

The reason I bring it up today can be summarized in one simple word:


Over the last decade, my partner and I have personally contributed $40,000 to this non-profit organization. In addition to our money, we’ve both contributed our time by helping with special events and working pledge cards for their annual campaign. To say “we’ve drank the Kool-Aid” is probably an understatement.

While we both like to hear about this organization’s program outcomes and community impact, we really get more excited when we hear testimonials or success stories. In other words, numbers and stats are nice, but stories are the payday we crave more than anything.

While the bottle of wine was very thoughtful and much appreciated, a simple birthday card probably would’ve sufficed. A phone call would’ve been really nice, especially if the conversation would’ve included a recent fun success story. The bottom line is that the birthday wishes from this non-profit organization sends a clear message that I’m a valued part of their family. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like being thought of that way.

As I bask in the after-glow of this stewardship touch, I find myself wondering what else could non-profit organizations do around a donor’s birthday? The following is a short, incomplete list representing just a few thoughts:

  • Send them a birthday card or call them . . . make sure to weave in a story about how their support makes a difference for your clients
  • If the donor doesn’t like “gift giving and receiving,” then this could be a tribute gift opportunity for your agency. This is, of course, where the donor tells their friends that in lieu of a birthday gift they’d appreciate contributions be made to your non-profit organization instead.
  • If your agency runs a “birthday club” for clients, then there might be an opportunity to fold donors into the same program using birthday recognition walls or inviting them to attend an organization-wide birthday party where they can interact with clients.
  • It could be an opportunity to turn a major donor’s birthday into a special event tribute party. The Elgin Symphony Orchestra is doing exactly this in a few weeks by inviting supporters to purchase tickets and attend a birthday bash for Harry Blizzard who is one of their biggest donors and supporters.

What does your non-profit organization do for donors around their birthdays? How do you go about capturing birth dates from donors? What systems do you use to remind yourself of this information? Please scroll down and use the comment box to answer a few of these questions.

Here’s to your health!  (Oh, and thanks for the wine, Rose!)

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

If you want donors to be loyal, then be loyal to your donors!

I know, I know . . . I keep coming back to the issue of loyalty, but I think this is the biggest issue for this generation of non-profit organizations. In fact, I think it will determine who is going out-of-business or being forced into merger/acquisition talks in the upcoming years. It is just that transformative of an issue!

What set me off and down this path again, was an email I received in my inbox yesterday from Gail Perry titled: “Don’t Be a Fundraising Dinosaur: 5 Big Ideas to Adopt Right Now“. It was such a tantalizing and catchy title that I couldn’t resist clicking on it. In about 5 seconds, I felt just like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole all over again. LOL

Gail’s second “big idea” was “Donor retention is more important than cash totals“. I read that header and thought to myself “DUH,” and then I read the following sentence:

“If you can only measure one thing in your fundraising program, then measure donor retention.”

Think about THIS for a moment . . . “only measure one thing” . . . isn’t she essentially saying donor retention is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to gauge how well your resource development program is succeeding or failing?

I think that is exactly what she is saying . . . and that is what got my attention.

It also begs the question: “What should non-profit and fundraising professionals focus on doing to encourage donor loyalty?”

Gail suggested the following few things:

  • ask your donors for video testimonials, and
  • ask your donors to do more than just write checks . . . get them involved through advocacy and volunteerism.

Both are great suggestions and you couldn’t go wrong if you decided to take those roads.

However, the words of Mahatma Gandhi keep ringing through my ears this morning as I read Gail’s blog post:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Essentially, this translates into what I titled this blog post. If you want donors to be loyal to your mission, then you need to be loyal to your donors. What does THAT mean? Well, I turned to Adrian Sargaent for help in answering this question. In 2003, Professor Sargaent wrote an article in The NonProfit Times titled “Keeping Donors Loyal: How to Minimize Attrition on the Fundraising Database“.

In that article, Sargaent makes two great points:

  • one-third of lapsed donors surveyed said they stopped giving because they found other charities that were “more deserving,” and
  • engaging donors in HOW they are communicated with and WHEN they are communicated with and WHAT they want to hear is an effective and important strategy in the fight for a donor’s loyalty.

For those of you who read this and think: “We can’t do that. We’re too small. We don’t have the resources to pull-off that kind of donor communication strategy.” Sargaent cuts you off at the knees and suggests that even today’s smallest non-profit organizations can implement a strategy like this because donor database technology is very affordable and powerful.

I, too, was once an executive director of a very small non-profit organization. Back then, I am sure that I would’ve read that database-related comment and immediately come up with more reasons as to why he is wrong: staffing, budget, time, etc, etc, etc.

So, here is my challenge to you today. Rather than focus on the WHY NOT, I challenge you to focus on the HOW. I challenge you to engage board members in this discussion. I challenge you to engage donors in this discussion. While I won’t predict that it will get you to a specific place when it comes to donor-centered fundraising, I will dare say that it will get you closer to answering the question: “How can your organization demonstrate loyalty to donors so that they’ll be better positioned to reciprocate the gesture?

There must be a million ways for your non-profit organization to show its loyalty to donors. Please scroll down and share a few of the things you’re implementing from a donor loyalty perspective. We can and should be learning from each other. Please share just one idea today!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Gail Perry shared a link to a great resource . . . a sample dashboard that resource development teams could use to measure and capture important donor loyalty metrics. Click here and you will see the two slides by Peter Drury that Gail shared in her blog post. A good friend of mine at Boys & Girls Clubs of America used to say: “Inspect what you expect”.  (I suspect he borrowed this quote from someone more famous. LOL) However, the point is still valid . . . you need to have a monitoring and accountability strategy in place as you start heading down these roads that aren’t traveled often enough by non-profit organizations.

Good luck, and as I always: “Here’s to your health!”

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Saying “Thank You” in a Donor-Centered Manner

Penelope Burk, CEO of Cygnus Applied Research, has done a lot of research into what it means to be donor-centered. She knows what motivates donors, and she know what troubles donors. If you haven’t purchased and read her book — “Donor Centered Fundraising” — then you don’t know what you’re missing. I’ve read her book a number of times and walk away from each experience learning something new.

On page 46 of Burk’s book, she reports the following about what her data says about prompt donor recognition:

“Prompt gift acknowledgement influences 44 percent of study donors’ future giving decisions. 38 percent of study donors receive a thank you letter within two weeks; 54 percent within a month; 8 percent within two months.”

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it is one thing to “academically” understand this concept and a completely different thing to “emotionally” understand it.

Without getting into embarrassing details, I recently made a $1,000 contribution to a non-profit organization. Not only did I get the acknowledgement letter three weeks later, but the letter wasn’t personalized nor did it contain the right information.

Adding insult to injury, this non-profit organization sent me another solicitation within a week.

Truth-be-told . . . I still like this organization. Their mission is awesome and very necessary. I might even go to the event to which they just invited me. However, nothing they are doing can be considered “donor-centered”. The consequence, of course, will likely be falling donor loyalty rates.

So, what is the solution?

Make it a policy of your organization to produce a mail a gift acknowledgement letter within 24 hours of receiving a pledge or contribution of any size. After the board adopts a set of written fundraising policies, they need to hold the executive director accountable for implementation. Remember, that which gets measured, gets done!

All of this policy talk got me thinking about my experiences with organizations and their written resource development policies. In all honesty, I have not seen any written resource development policies recently. Sure, I’ve seen document destruction policies . . . whistleblower protection policies . . . financial controls policies . . . conflict of interest policies . . . BUT no written resource development policies.

As recent as last week, I’ve been asking everyone who will listen if they could send me a copy of their agency’s donor database policy and procedures manual. Yep, you guessed it. Everyone talked a great game, but I only received one sample (kinda).

Why is it that many of us take every other policy challenge that is thrown out way seriously, but seem to cut corners when it comes to resource development policies?

Rolling up our sleeves and engaging fundraising volunteers, board members, and donors in writing resource development policies provides us an opportunity to align our fundraising practices (e.g. gift acknowledgement letters) with donor-centered practices. In turn this activity might help improve our donor loyalty rates.

Click here for some stand alone policies pertaining to resource development.

When is the last time your organization reviewed and revised its fundraising policies? Where are those written policies captured (e.g. SOP manual? RD Plan? Stand along policy documents?) Who did you engage in revising your policies the last time you undertook this task? Please scroll down and use the comment box to answer some of these questions or weigh-in with your opinion.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847