Take the rest of the day off

You listened…you did it…and it worked.

Over a decade ago, I investigated why donors stop giving to not-for-profits after making only one or two contributions. Donors in the first two studies I conducted in the United States and Canada told me: If fundraisers acknowledge our contributions promptly and meaningfully when we give, if they assign our gifts to something specific, and if they report on what has been accomplished before asking us to give again, we will stay loyal and our future donations will be more generous.

I published this straight-forward solution to high donor attrition in Donor-Centered Fundraising. This year, I went back to donors to ask them what has changed. A lot, it seems.

According to donors…

→ You’re getting thank you letters out faster. As a matter of fact, you’ve become so efficient that a two-week turnaround (two days for electronic thank yous) is now considered by donors to be the new industry standard. Well done!

→ Those thank you calls you’ve been making — donors have noticed – including when you leave voicemails — and your efforts are really paying off. 34% of donors who received a personal thank you call said they gave again because of the call.

→ And, Donor Recognition Events that take so much time and effort — they are definitely worth every creative moment you put into them. A remarkable 87% of donors who have attended a recent Donor Recognition Event have either already given or plan to give when asked by the host not-for-profit largely because of their positive Event experience.

Two things still exasperate donors, however, and they are the main reasons why attrition is still much too high. Over-soliciting and insisting on unrestricted gifts are largely why 65% of donors who make a first gift never make a second and why 90% or more donors who start giving are gone within five subsequent appeals. These problems are as frustrating for fundraisers as they are for donors because they are under pressure to ask too often and talk in general, rather than specific, terms about what happens with the money that donors give. Most fundraisers know they could make much more of it if top decision-makers had a better grasp on donor motivation and strategic alternatives to bombarding donors with frenetic appeals.

The researcher in me is fascinated by the numbers, whether or not they reflect the movement of fundraising in a positive direction. But, as the person who has been hauling myself and those numbers from city to city for the last fifteen years, I am very gratified. Everywhere I go, I have had (and continue to have) the privilege of interacting with professional fundraisers who already raise billions of dollars yet still strive to do better. Well, according to donors, you are doing better. Nicely done. Take the rest of the day off.

The 2013 Burk Donor Survey
updates the original Donor-Centered research and explores in greater detail how donors in each age group are reacting to new communications technologies as well as how donors’ giving patterns are changing. Click here, for more information.
Showing 4 comments
  • Chris Roehrer

    Am I correct in assuming that donor recognition events are more likely to be well-received and productive if they are offered without charge?

    • Penelope Burk

      Yes, you are definitely right. In this research study, we specifically differentiated between events hosted by not-for-profits for the purpose of honoring/thanking donors as opposed to fundraising events whose main or secondary purpose is making money. It is important that Donor Recognition Events do not have an admission cost to donors as the concern that some recognition events are actually fundraising events in disguise is one of the things that keep donors from attending. (Another example would be an event marketed as recognition but which features an unadvertised auction once donors are in the door.) That said, donors would likely not be offended if they are asked to pay for alcoholic drinks at an otherwise free event. The full report includes more information on the things that donors say make these events successful.

  • Joe

    Great post! Reporting back on the impact donations create is essential for extending the donor relationship. Mind if I reblog this on rallybound.com?

  • Mary Bristow

    Whenever I receive a blog posting from you Penelope I feel like an old friend has reached out with affirmations and encouragement. Your blend of data and storytelling always speaks to the heart of the matter. At Rainier Scholars our Executive Director has committed to making calls of gratitude at ALL levels when a gift is received and our scholars use Novemeber as a month to reach out and simply express their gratitude for an investment in their future. The results have been powerful.

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