Donor Centered Fundraising

I recently presented at a conference hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Northern New England and the Council on Fundraising on building strong leaders. I am glad I stayed after my presentation to hear the keynote speaker, Penelope Burk, President of Cygnus Applied Research, Inc. Penelope’s presentation was engaging, funny, and informative. She presented the results of research conducted by Cygnus, along with some recommendations for how to retain donors and encourage them to give more over time.

Penelope shared that after much research, she found that there are three simple things that an organization can do to motivate donors to stay loyal to the organization and to increase their giving:

  1. Thank them promptly and meaningfully.
  2. Tell them how the money will be used.
  3. Report to them the results of the project their donation supported.

Some statistics:

  • In March 2011, 52% of donors said they could have given more money last year.
  • In 2009, 59% of donors were affected by the recession, but still they gave the same amount, or even more.
  • 75% of donors give just a little bit to see what the organization will do next.
  • 84% of donors said they would give again if they were asked (35% do).
  • 9 out of 10 donors stop giving to an organization before they become “profitable”

Penelope also reported that there has been a 10-year trend toward individual donors supporting fewer causes. This means that any direct marketing appeal that relies solely on volume for success is in trouble. Further, if all organizations are going to have fewer total donors in the coming years, every organization has to make sure it is working to keep the donors it already has.

So, how does an organization increase donor loyalty and donor giving? Simple – give them what they want. Those three things listed above are the key, Penelope says. Say thank you, tell them where the money is going, and tell them what happened because of their donation. Do this regularly, even for donors who give the smallest amounts, and over time, they will give more.

Also, work to develop your volunteer leadership. Penelope stressed that every minute spent on developing volunteer leaders is time “stunningly” well spent because these leaders have fundraising power that no one on the staff will have. These leaders do not necessarily have to know the donors or make the initial contact, but they do need to be willing to share their story, whether it is their own personal philanthropic story, or the story of how the organization helped them.

I experienced this myself just this week when I attended the 10th anniversary celebration of DREAM. I would not have gone to this event (or even known about it) if I hadn’t been personally invited by a friend. I really had no intention of contributing to the organization, but during the event, one of the staff read a letter from one of the program participants. She couldn’t attend the event because she was in college – already showing that the program is successful. Her letter was articulate and compelling, and her story resonated with me personally. Needless to say, I wrote a check before I left. Thinking back on it, I probably could have written a bigger check. We’ll see what happens next.