Revolving Doors

By: Jerry W. Henry, Partner

Revolving doors are helpful….except when they are not!

In the winter, revolving doors enable us to get inside the warmth of a building lobby in a fairly quick fashion without letting the blustery cold air blow through behind us.  But, there are times when I’m either carrying a large briefcase or my overnight roll-aboard suitcase, and I find it difficult to maneuver through the tiny space. It’s usually right at the same time the next person coming in (usually in a hurry) pushes on the door space behind me, and we become locked for an instant in a glass-enclosed space. It can be frustrating.

There’s a great deal of talk about the frustration around “revolving doors” in our nonprofit sector these days.

Those of us who’ve been in the profession for a few years are well aware of the “revolving door” of staff members working in the development profession and the high turnover rate in our development offices.

Just this past week, we read the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) Donor Retention Supplement report reminding us once again of the “revolving door” of donors to our organizations.   The original 2015 FEP report had presented a statistic finding that overall donor retention rate among nonprofit organizations was 46%.  This supplement has gone a little deeper into the numbers and shows us that first year donors have a retention rate of only 25.4%!  The report also confirms what we suspected about building donor loyalty – for donors who gave at least 2 years in a row, the retention rate increased to 64.8%. Not surprisingly, the more someone gives slightly larger gifts over a longer period of time, the greater likelihood that they will continue to give and stay connected to an organization.  And, THOSE are many of the donors who may eventually find their way into the major gift pipeline.

Retaining donors and gaining loyalty at the lower levels of the donor pyramid is becoming increasingly important.  For years now, we’ve been focusing on “major gifts” and “moving donors up the giving pyramid.”  I certainly don’t suggest stopping our strong efforts and work in those areas.

As important as major gift work is in each of our organizations, we also need to place as much attention on growing donor loyalty at the beginning levels of donor engagement, too.

We need to look closely at how we nurture and hold on to donors from the time they first become engaged with our organizations until we “develop” them into loyal donors.

We need to use all of the tools in our tool chest to slow the “revolving door” of donors leaving our organizations and determine effective ways to “keep them inside.”