Archive for the ‘Donor Research’ Category

Save the Donors!

Donor Retention FactsIf there’s a mantra we need to adopt for 2013 it’s “Save the Donors!”

Donor Retention rates are getting worse, even as fundraising increased slightly, according to the 2012 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute (

A few years ago, we knew that out of 100 donors, we would lose about 35% of them due to moving away, passing away, or simply going away. Most donors become disinterested in the work our organization is doing and decide that another nonprofit is more worthy of their gift.   The report from AFP shows that for every 100 donors, we’re losing 107 for a net loss.

Folks, this is BAD news! 

Professional fundraisers MUST wake up and spend more time building relationships, stewarding gifts, and helping donors feel special. We can no longer afford to take donors for granted. A donor is way more important than the check she writes.  You need her around for the long haul, not just for this year’s annual fund.

I believe the answer is in communication.

In my own experience as a donor, there are few organizations that communicate with me in a warm, friendly way.  A couple of my favorite nonprofits send me stuff that makes me feel like an outsider, which doesn’t exactly make me want to send another gift.  If someone were to actually visit me and talk to me about what’s important, who knows how much I might give! But no one has ever bothered to take the time.

How many donors do you have who feel that same way?

Probably more than you want to know.

It’s time to get serious about keeping our donors.

Try this: instead of thinking of them as donors, think of them as friends. How would you talk to a friend? How often would you reach out to your friend?

What are the steps you need to take to develop a friendship?  Make a list.  Chances are good that they aren’t that different than what you need to do to build a relationship with a donor.

Don’t let these friendships that are vital to your organization languish.

Why people give

People give for all kinds of reasons. Most new or inexperienced fundraisers believe that people give for the tax benefit. Usually, that’s one of the last reasons why someone gives. Here are some of the most common reasons for giving:

• They want to help someone.
• They feel moved by someone’s story.
• They believe in the organization’s goals.
• They want to give back.
• They want to feel good about themselves.
• They want to belong to a group.
• They give for religious reasons.
• They give because it’s a family tradition.
• They want the tax deduction.

More people give for one single reason than any other – simply, because someone asked.

The most important thing is that you try to uncover the reasons why people give to your nonprofit organization, particularly your major donors. You can do this in lots of different ways like using a written or online survey, a focus group, or simply asking in person. The more you understand why someone gives, the more you can tailor your request to their personal reasons, and increasing the likelihood of receiving a gift.

It’ll be here soon! The day that we unveil my new book “Get Fully Funded.” Enjoy the 30 days of tips leading up the book launch party!

Why do they give?

Thank goodness we’re not all the same!  Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we were?  There would only be one flavor of ice cream (because we’d all want the same kind).  There would only be one kind of music (I shudder to think what we’d all be listening to or singing karaoke with!!).

If we were all the same, we’d be donating money for the same reasons.  Maybe we’d all want to give back or maybe we’d all want to help others.  Or maybe we’d all just want the tax benefit. But, since we’re all different, we give for lots of different reasons. 

It’s important to keep this in mind when you are fundraising.  It’s easy to start to assume that we know why people will give to our cause, and then create our appeal around the assumed reason.  Big mistake.  We can often get it wrong!  If we assume that people will give because ours is a good cause, we’re going to be sad when donations don’t come pouring in.  Instead of assuming, we need to either find out why people give to our organiation or make our appeal broad enough to be compelling for lots of different folks and different giving reasons.

Here are some of the common reasons why people give:

  • They want to change or save a life
  • They want to help those less fortunate
  • They want to give back
  • They want to make their community a better place
  • Their religion encourages them to give
  • They want the tax benefit

And the most common reason?  Because someone asked.

I was working with a client yesterday, putting together an appeal letter.  He was convinced that most people would give for the tax benefit.  I had to convince him that was not necessarily the case.  He thought that since that’s the reason he would give, it would be the same reason for others.  I had to help him see that people give for many different reasons.

So, next time you’re planning a fundraising letter or an event, remember not to guess you know why people will give. Don’t assume that they are all interested in the tax benefit or that they all want to give back.  Until you get to know your donors, you won’t know exactly what their reasons are, so give them lots of reasons to support your cause.

Put your picture on the piano

I was at a fundraising committee meeting recently and we were talking about growing the organization’s donor base. This is a common goal for nonprofit organizations, right?  Well, I’m always delighted when folks who don’t have formal fundraising training get it, as happened that day.

As we were talking about strategies for growing the donor base, we talked about how minimizing the loss of donors would help increase our overall number of active donors.  That’s when one sweet man said “we need to put our picture on their piano.”  We giggled immediately knowing what he meant.

I remember when I was little, my Grandma had lots of photos of family and friends on her beautiful upright piano.  That was her way of keeping them close and remembering them often.  The suggestion of putting our picture on the donor’s piano was a perfect way to describe the importance we need to put on relationships with our donors.  Our donors are so much more to us than just the check they write.  Their gift is a vote of confidence in the work our organization is doing.  It’s their way of saying they support what we’re doing and they want to see us succeed.  They, too, want to see the change we’re after in the world.

And that kind of support deserves our attention and respect.  Maybe we should put their picture on our piano, too.

Good fundraising practices I learned from my cat

Missy is one of four cats that live here with us. We adopted her from a local shelter about 10 years ago and she’s a sweetie. She’s the oldest and the smallest of the pack and to help her keep weight on, we feed her canned cat food every afternoon about 4 pm.  She LOVES her “tuna” as we call it and eats every last bite.

Lately, I’ve been watching her and thinking that Missy might have something to teach us about fundraising.

She knows what her goal is. Missy knows what she wants and every afternoon, she waits in her usual spot for her dinner.

She’s hopeful. When anyone walks to the kitchen at any time in the afternoon, Missy goes too, just to see if she might get fed early.

She builds relationship. She gives out lots of love during the day to those who feed her.

She expresses appreciation. She purrs and gives out love to those who help her reach her goal.

This is all good, but sometimes she’s a pest.  In fact, we’ve started calling her “Pesty Cat” because she ALWAYS wants to be fed.  This is a danger for many nonprofit fundraising folks – always showing up with their hand out for money.

If that’s how you approach fundraising, your donors will likely get tired of it.  Make sure that you ask often enough for a gift, but not too often.  It’s a fine line to walk, but one your donors will appreciate if you can get it right. If you want to take it a step further, ask your donors how often and when they’d like to be asked for a gift.  It puts your donor in charge of the relationship and they’ll be much happier.  You’ll likely see your results go up and your expenses go down.  Wondering how to do that?  Survey your donors and simply ask them what they want.

Gotta go – Missy is ready for her dinner!

Encourage repeat gifts

“78% of individual donors said they would definitely or probably give again to a charity  that provided them with prompt,  personal gift acknowledgement followed sometime later with a meaningful update on the program they had funded.

Penelope Burk

What can you do to provide your donors with a meaningful update?

Find out what your donors are thinking

Do you know what your donors are thinking?  Or what they want from their relationship with you?

It’s easy to find out.

A simple donor survey can help you learn what’s on your donors’ minds and what they’re interested in.  Here are some tips for creating an effective survey.

  • Plan your survey.  Be clear about what it is you want to find out.  This will help you hone in on the most important questions.
  • Keep it short and simple.  Remember that donors are busy people and won’t take the time to complete a long survey.  I recommend 10 questions or less.
  • Use a variety of questions (a mixture of simple answer, multiple choice, and fill in the blank).

My favorite survey tool is Survey Monkey (  It’s easy to use and offers a free version.  You create a survey then email your donors the link.

I used Survey Monkey with a client recently to find out what donors thought about their enewsletter.  The survey featured only seven questions and we were able to learn that we needed to rework the format a little bit.  The result was a more effective enewsletter that donors were more likely to read.  Cool huh?

Donor Surveys

When you know more about your donors and what they want you can do a better job of giving it to them.

I’m working with a group right now on a survey and it’s a lot of fun.  They are a state-wide environmental group with a large portion of their donors receiving an email newsletter.  We designed a survey using SurveyMonkey to find out if they like the info in the email newsletter and what they’d like to see done differently.  There are only 7 questions in the survey with a combination of fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice.  It’s short and easy to complete.

We had some gut feelings about how the responses might go and so far, we’re right on.  It’s nice to see donors jumping in to participate and help the organization by answering the short survey, and also very interesting to see the responses.

As a result, we’re going to be able to tweak the email newsletter to make it more effective.  Not just because somebody thinks that’s what should happen, but because that’s what the DONORS want!  Cool, huh?

Online prospect research

Sometimes when you’re cultivating major donors, it’s helpful to know a little more about them.  And one of the easiest places to research your donor prospects is online.

I ran across this site and thought it was pretty good. You can find out things like property values of real estate that your donor owns, which could give you a clue about their net worth.  Check it out at

Connect with Sandy
Blog articles