Want Loyal Donors? Then Stop Recruiting Them

Thoughts from IFC 2013

Whichever numbers you look at, from whichever angle you look, retention rates in our sector are appalling. Why? Well have you ever thought that the way we bring people in is what’s making them go out again?

I’m not talking about the channels we use; I’m talking about the mindset with which we use them. People leave because we don’t know why they’d stay (we know why we’d like them to, but that’s far from the same thing!)

Alan Clayton’s (exquisite) session ‘Fired Up for Fundraising’ showed the best way to ask for money…

  1. Know exactly what you want
  2. Know exactly what your donor wants
  3. Gain emotional commitment
  4. Thank like you’ve never thanked before

…but we don’t have to look too far to see the only point we really focus on is the first. It’s not that we don’t think about the others, it’s just the way we think about them is wrong.

Why? Because the language we use, that shapes the thoughts we have, which dictates the actions we take is fundamentally flawed. This was the point that Tony Elischer made in his session ‘Reinventing Fundraising, Now and for the Future’.

The big clue to our retention problem can be found in the word we use to describe the very start of the process; ‘recruitment’. How can we possibly focus on what donors want if all we want is to ‘recruit’ them? The rigidity of the word shuts out any possibility of connecting on anything other than a transactional basis. Do we really think that’s what our donors want?

We’d all answer no; but does your organizations structure back your answer?  Is it able to see donors as individuals coming to you with their hopes, dreams, and fears or are they numbers on a spreadsheet?  If they’re just numbers there’s no emotion. If there’s no emotion there won’t be another donation (a point scientifically proven in Francesco Ambrogetti and Dan Hills session).

Some organizations are good at getting an emotional reaction; but if you want to keep your donors you need to make an emotional connection.

There are proven methods to nurture that connection. So you’d think given as many donors are leaving by the back door as we’re ‘recruiting’ (a.k.a. shovelling) through the front, charities would grab the chance to use them. Yet few do. Why? Because we’re all waiting for someone else to do it first. The title of this year’s IFC was ‘How We Are Changing the World’; the tag line should have been ‘After You’ (as Tony Elischer said, our sectors mascot is the lemming!)

Where there is no vision, the people perish’. We can’t fix retention until we fix our outdated silos, language and ethics. Retention isn’t simply a strategic question, it’s a moral one. Unless you seriously believe your next appeal is the one that will find the cure, end the injustice, vaccinate every child, then it’s immoral not to focus on lifetime value.

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