We’ve provided advice on minimizing the Danger Zone for new donors and multi-year donors – the point where a donor stops giving for reasons within a nonprofit organization’s control. But that raises a question: Why do we have such a hard time holding on to our donors?
Yes, there are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, and our donors are constantly bombarded with messages from some of them. Yes, priorities change and donors “move on” from our mission. Yes, staff change, and donors lose their point of connection. But there are things we may be able to do better to keep donors from hurrying into the danger zone.
First, differentiate ourselves from all the other nonprofits with similar missions. In our quest to appeal to the broadest possible audience, we can lose what makes us special to donors who are looking for a long-term relationship with an organization that shares their values. Don’t be afraid to tell your supporters over and over that you are different because … In this day and age, nonprofit organizations may feel like a commodity to the layperson; pretty much any one is as good as the next.
Next, treat our donors better than anyone else does. When donors are viewed as a cost of doing business instead of the reason we can do business, we start saving pennies by failing to quickly show gratitude for their gifts and responding to their concerns and questions. While we have to be wise stewards of donated funds and not spend them all on servicing our donors, we need to find cost-effective ways to be responsive to them. How do you expect to be treated when you have a complaint or a comment about a restaurant where you ate dinner? Do you expect the restaurant staff to say “thank you” as you are leaving – or six weeks or six months later? We need to expect that our donors expect the same from us.
Finally, start telling your donors what they want to hear. This doesn’t mean sugarcoating the truth, but it does mean sharing the success of your organization with them, just as you shared the challenge: “We asked for your support for this project, and here’s what you made possible!” We tend to focus on our needs, our results, our structure, our vision. Instead, ask “What does this donor want and need to hear to know that she has made (or can make) a difference?
Our donors are heading into the Danger Zone at an unprecedented rate. If we are serious about keeping them as supporters, it’s time to put an end to just being ordinary and instead commit to be extraordinary.