Are you ignoring those who love you most?

It’s pretty much impossible to be a fundraiser these days and not be thinking an awful lot about retention. As a sector, we’re losing more donors than we’re bringing in, and it’s getting scary to think about where we might be in 10 or 20 years if this keeps up.

Like most of you, this issue is often on my mind, not only as a fundraiser, but as a donor too. I’ve seen plenty of charities starting to focus on good donor retention programs for face to face and DM recruits (sorry Tony!). They’re improving their welcome process and thank you letters – some are even feeding back regularly on what the donor’s gifts are accomplishing. I do hope these actions will make a big difference and bring in more funds for those in need.

But I can’t help but feel that there is an incredible group of loyal and passionate donors out there who are overlooked and forgotten in almost every instance – the donors who aren’t recruited at all…

I’m talking about the people who seek you out and give without solicitation.

These are the donors who are simply passionate about a cause and will look for a charity that can help them fulfil their own personal mission, creating the world they hope for.

They care more deeply about your cause than maybe even you yourself. These are people who have thought long and hard about making their gift, and then proudly followed through, hoping to make a difference – and, in my experience, they are the most likely to hear nothing from you. At best, they’ll get a welcome pack and then get dropped into the warm appeal file. At best.

Now, even in my own mind, this is somewhat controversial. How much effort should we put into these donors? I still remember hearing about this from Alan Clayton a few years ago (I wrote about it here). He made the point that there are three types of people:

  • those who will always give to your charity, no matter how badly you treat them (within reason),
  • those who may give to your charity, if asked in the right way,
  • and those who will never give, no matter how hard you try.

Alan urged fundraisers to focus nearly all their attention on the Maybes, because to spend resources elsewhere is a waste of time and donor dollars.

I’ve very aware that I’m arguing against this very good point by speaking up for the Always group. But it really has struck me that these people have more potential than anyone for the highest lifetime values. Those who care enough to have approached you in the first place seem like the most likely to give regular gifts, help with community fundraising, and ultimately, leave you a gift in their Will.

Chuck Longfield, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientist at Blackbaud, has often advised to watch for donors who contact you with their change of address. These people are telling you that they want to keep hearing from you, and care enough to remember you during the chaos of a move.

So, if you see someone start a regular gift out of the blue from your webpage, or make an unexpected phone call to donate, don’t they seem to fall into the same change of address category? If nothing else, it should be worth a follow up call in a few months, just to ask ‘why did you first decide to support us?’ I bet you’re likely to hear some passionate responses.

But why on earth should they do anything other than continue to give that $15 a month (as your website/marketing department suggested when they signed up) if they never hear from you?

That seems like an awfully big missed opportunity to me.

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