Chasing New Donors?

       It can be pretty tempting for a small charity to invest a lot of resources and staff time chasing new donors.  For our own charity I know it often feels like we are on that treadmill to always find and attract new donors. For the last 8 or 9 years we have been pretty successful at doing that, however there appears to be a lot of evidence that making sure your current donors are engaged and impressed with what you are doing makes a lot more sense economically and in terms of fundraising success.  Burk( 2003,p 96) suggests:” Successful fundraising is not the process of accruing an ever-increasing volume of donors; it is recognizing the ones with the potential for contributing progressively generous gifts, then making it as easy as possible for them to do just that. Retained donors are increasingly cost effective over time because they tend to give more while requiring less investment based on cost per dollar raised.”

            For a small charity that has some level of success in finding new donors- this success can often be the factor which stands in the way of objectively considering what you need to be doing to retain your current donors. Burnett (2002) describes;”  As new donors cost around five times more to recruit than lapsed donors cost to reactivate, why is it nonprofits usually persist in spending the vast bulk of their promotional resources on finding new resources.”

How does a small nonprofit reactivate lapsed donors or make sure that donors continue to support them? Burnett has some pretty practical advice for a charity he suggests:” First remove anything that might make them want to leave you in the first place- discover through research every conceivable reason there could be why anyone might leave you, and work to eliminate those factors (Burnett, 2002, p.157).”

            For our own charity whether we are trying to engage a new donor or re-involve a past donor we often offer to give a tour of one of our Houses. This gives the opportunity to talk about what our team is doing with donations and how people can support what we are doing. Talking about these things is pretty important, but our Director of Development is pretty good at engaging donors in a conversation that is fairly similar to what Burnett is suggesting.” How did you hear about us?” “What originally made you interested in RMH?” Do you support other similar charities” What do you like about your support to their cause? Do you like the way they recognize your donation? Do you like the way they communicate with you about how your donation is being used?”  Not that Marla peppers people during a tour with all of these questions –she is pretty good at weaving some of them through the tour and the conversation. Also she is fairly likely to ask a few questions about our own efforts to avoid losing them as a donor. “Are you receiving our newsletter?” Is there anything about it that you particularly like or dislike?” Is there anything we could be doing to inform you better on what we are doing with your support?” “Did you receive your thank you letter and receipt in a timely manner.”

There are likely a few thousand other questions a fundraising or nonprofit executive could be asking but the point is to keep creating opportunities for your donors to give you feedback about their satisfaction with their donor experience with your organization. Otherwise they will tell you in our least favorite way, they will stop giving to you and start giving to another charity.


Burk, P (2003) Donor Centered Fundraising: How to Hold on to your donors and raise much more    

          money: Hamilton: Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.

Burnett,K (2002) Relationship Fundraising: A donor –based approach to the business of raising money:

          San Francisco: Jossey –Bass.


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