Turning fundraising losses into gains with the help of old friends

This just in from the Association of Fundraising Professionals: 2011 was a tough year for America’s nonprofit community. That’s the word based on an analysis of fundraising data from 3,184 respondents covering year-to-year fundraising results for 2010 and 2011. According to the 2012 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey:

  • Every $100 gained in 2011 was offset by $100 in losses through gift attrition for a “net gain in giving” of $0.
  •  Every 100 donors gained in 2011 was offset by 107 in lost donors through attrition for a net gain in donors of -7.
  •  The smaller the organization, the more pronounced the losses.

No surprise here if you’re one of the thousands of nonprofit leaders who lived the sad story. But at least now you know it wasn’t just you. For fundraisers everywhere, even the “big boys” on the nonprofit block, it’s been one step forward, one step back.


Holding your own is the new definition of fundraising success, and that makes donor retention the holy grail of our time. As the authors of the AFP study tell us,

it usually costs less to retain and motivate an existing donor than to attract a new one. For most organizations—and especially those that are sustaining losses or achieving only modest net gains in gifts and donors—taking positive steps to reduce gift and donor losses is the least expensive strategy for increasing net fundraising gains.

In other words, focus on the friends you already have before chasing after others.

Don’t get me wrong. I think  new donors bearing new gifts are lovely. The more, the merrier I’ll be.

But for the surest ROI from your fundraising efforts, begin with your base. Mine your data for every bit of info you can gather about the organization’s most committed friends.  Then get to work, matching your communication to donor interests, passions, and callings.

Individually tailored appeals take more time, but they also result in significantly larger gifts — and they grow givers’ hearts. Within the context of faith-based organizations, the task of the development team is to find the intersection between the ministry’s mission and the individual’s calling.  As you demonstrate faith in the generous folks who’ve been there for your organization in the past, I guarantee, a whole lot of them will be there for the organization in the future.

If enough fundraisers make donor retention a priority, the trend line should begin to tilt upward. But don’t wait for the pack. Create your own Fundraising Effectiveness Report, beginning today, one familiar heart at a time.

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