Donor Retention – Still A Work In Progress

By Jerry Henry, Partner

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” to quote Charles Dickens about the plight of life during the emerging industrial age in Great Britain during the early to mid- 19th Century.

But the same quote could be used for what continues to occur in the fundraising arena as we move into the 2nd quarter of 2017.

Based on a 2016 report entitled Giving USA Philanthropy Spotlight: Benchmarking Giving to Human Services, even looking at one subgroup of the nonprofit sector – human services – we see there is good news and there is less-than-good news.

Statistics show that giving to human service organizations continues to rise – often outpacing the percentage of giving to other segments of the nonprofit sector. However, the retention rate for donors to this area is in a steady decline. In many instances, the statistics show that human service organizations struggle more to retain donors than other nonprofit organizations.

We’ve referenced the challenges of donor retention in some of our other Alexander Haas publications in the past. See Donor Cultivation Practices: To Fish or Farm? or Three Practices Trending in Development.  At the end of the day, what we see having the greatest impact on these high donor turnover rates is the lack of attention to stewardship.  Organizations are often in a “run-sell-run” mode, moving from solicitation to solicitation without taking the time to properly thank those who do respond before soliciting them for another gift.  This frustrates donors, who tell us that sometimes they feel treated much like “ATM machines” by organizations and they move away from those groups.

We believe a good starting point for every organization is to set some benchmarks in order to determine where you are in your fundraising efforts and how you compare to these national statistics.  The Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) of the Association of Fundraising Professionals provides some excellent tools to get you started. Visit the site here: http://afpfep.org/tools/ and take the FEP Fundraising Fitness Test.

The resulting information you glean can become a starting point for addressing what is a critical component of fundraising today.  The benchmarks you set for your organization can become a guide for regular discussions among your staff and with your board members as you work together to develop strategies to strengthen your donor relations.

And just as we began with a quote from Dickens, so we end with one as a “thought for the day:”  “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”