Fundraisers: Loyalty is What Really Matters

Since ancient times, we have been reminded that a true friend is loyal to us. Aristotle wrote, “A friend to all is a friend to none,” and Euripides said, “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” Or, in the terms of today’s fundraisers, “One loyal donor is worth 10,000 fans, likes or followers whose engagement never goes further than that.”

As any fundraiser who reads an online post or a magazine about fundraising knows, donor retention is abysmal. We’re all plagued with “drive-up donors”—they pull up, make a gift and take off into the night, never to be seen again. Yet, measuring success by the number of Facebook likes and Twitter followers has become epidemic, and we glom onto the stat that shows how many new “likes” we have this week or our total number of followers.

Maybe I am missing the point here, but if I were to read all the Facebook posts that come to me from my friends and organizations I’ve liked, plus the tweets from all the people and companies I follow, that would be my full-time job. We learn to flag those people or groups we consider most important, and much of the rest only gets our attention when we’re stuck in a long line with noting to amuse us but our smartphones.

Add to that that we get excited when we get a 5 or 6 percent response to our direct mail—but we seldom mention that this means 94 or 95 percent were not interested. The 2015 M+R Benchmarks Study reports that nonprofit email open rates in 2014 were about 14 percent, meaning 86 percent didn’t even bother glancing at our communication beyond the preview window.

I’m not a gloom-and-doom person. I do celebrate results, even when the percentages are in the single digits. But I am concerned when I hear a nonprofit talking about all of its fans and friends instead of about its loyal donors. I cringe when the focus is on how much money was saved by changing a fundraising strategy that generates followers instead of how much more money was raised by a strategy that generates donations.

Bottom line: Friends and followers don’t pay for overhead and mission-fulfilling projects. Only donors do that.

Today is a great day to turn your focus to the loyalty of your donors instead of the volume of your followers.

Measure what matters. Start reporting—just to yourself, if no one else wants to listen—your retention rate, your average number of gifts per donor in a year (you can break this down into segments, like core donors, middle donors, major donors, etc., to avoid skewing), and your annual donor value—and how those compare to one, two and three years ago. Then start strategizing on ways to improve those telltale metrics.

Look for “rising stars” in your donor file and cultivate them.For example, study after study has shown that donors who give to more than one channel (i.e., direct mail and online) are more “sticky.” We often segment our files by recency, frequency and/or largest (or last or average) gift. What about testing a special communication to a segment of those who give via multiple channels? What about honoring longevity with a special letter that simply says, “thank you”? What about a call to thank a donor when he or she hits a milestone (i.e., giving five years or giving a cumulative of $1,000)?

Find out why your loyal donors are loyal—and try to replicate that. When you’re thanking a loyal donor, ask them what really excites them about your organization. What offers do they remember? Are there any communications they read without fail? Are there areas where they would like more information? Obviously, talking to a handful of people is hardly a scientific survey, but if you make it a point to always ask a few questions, you may start noticing patterns—good and bad. We can easily “fall in love” with our work because we invest so much of ourselves in each letter we write, every eNews we send out, each Facebook post we share. Getting a more unbiased view from loyal donors can help us prioritize and refine.

A more recent philosopher, Grant Fairley, wrote, “If you want loyalty—get a dog.” This old dog (and dog-lover) can attest to the loyalty of my dog (and office-mate), but also to the loyalty of some donors who truly care about the mission we work so hard to advance. Paying attention to these superstars is time well spent because, in the end, it’s true: Friends and followers don’t pay for overhead and mission-fulfilling projects. Only donors do that.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.


Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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