SOFII's Blog - interesting fundraising trends and ideas from around the world

SOFII is an online archive of fundraising best practice and creativity. It is filled with an ever expanding array of easily accessible exhibits, articles, videos, opinion pieces, hints and tips, book reviews and recommendations. The SOFII blog is a place for us to share some thoughts and ideas that might not have an obvious home on the SOFII website. It’s also a place for us to invite guest bloggers to share their views. If you’d like to contribute to our blog please get in touch with

Friday, 12 November 2010

Beat the statistics by falling in love with your donors.

By Pamela Grow.

As a fundraising consultant I work primarily with smaller charities. Here in the US, over 50 per cent of our registered nonprofit organisations have assets of less than $1 million.

Fundraising in a one-person shop is tough enough to begin with and these days fundraisers are faced with a barrage of discouraging statistics every day. According to Blackbaud first year donor retention stands at a paltry 29.3 per cent. Email response rates are abysmal, individual donations are declining, foundation grants are drying up, yada yada yada.

You get the picture.

How do you keep your spirits – and funding – up in the face of such devastating statistics? Could the answer be as simple as falling in love with your donors?


Bear with me on this.

We’re all accustomed to the culture of immediate payoffs. When we hear about the $30 million raised via text for the Haiti victims, we all want to jump on the text bandwagon. A friend tells us that their organisation raised $10,000 using Facebook Causes and we’re sold.

The truth is that sustainable fundraising is a nurturing process. You wouldn’t mix up some flour, yeast and water and throw it in the oven expecting bread would you? Of course not, you’re going to mix your ingredients, knead your dough, allow it to rise, punch it down and maybe even repeat the process, then bake it. It’s the same with fundraising – you’re creating a nurturing process with your donors and prospective donors.

That relationship with your donors should be all encompassing: from personal contact to direct mail, to your web presence to email and to how people in your organisation answer the phone.

In everything that you do, you should be thinking about lifetime value.

Nonprofit marketing always takes place in a context of what we call – wait for it – a market. And when you consider your market, there is a line separating your potential donors (demographics, psychographics, etc of people that can or might give you money) and donors (people who have actually given you money). You may prefer to look at them as potential vs. proven. If you must ensure that your messages pay off, do you allocate your resources according to this model? Or do you favour your existing donors?

While on this topic – love your donors, not your mission. It is all too easy to get caught up in nonprofit marketing that is I/me based (we are so good because.... we are number one because...). By falling in love with your donors, you make them the focal point, you monitor their feedback (notice I didn't say ‘dictate’ the marketing as they’re not qualified to do so, but they are very qualified to vote with their dollars as to the effectiveness of a particular appeal), and you are aware of their preferred method of contact. Another word of caution on the meaning of ‘preferred’: just because people say they prefer tweets doesn't mean they respond best to tweets. It is important to test.

So, what are the most powerful ways to love your donors?

Two words: thank you. One of the ways to show love is by showing appreciation. Make it a practice to say thank you not once but twice or even three times. Schedule 30 minutes in your daily routine to call a handful of recent donors to thank them personally for their gifts.

Touching: you physically touch someone you love but you can also demonstrate touch by calling or writing to someone and saying, ‘You’re an important person in my life and I just wanted you to know that’. Or, ‘Hey, just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you’. I recommend a minimum of 12 touches a year. They could be a combination of three print newsletters, two direct mail appeals, six email newsletters and one postcard. A minimum of 12.

Donor appreciation events: you get together with family and friends during the holidays...why not get together with donors (you love them, remember?) and celebrate with them?

Gifts: do I really need to elaborate? They don’t need to be expensive; they just need to show your appreciation. You could use fun tokens such as a pack of chewing gum, a refrigerator magnet, or a stuffed animal. Not sure how to make this work? Get creative. Here's an example with gum:

‘Dear Dave Donor,

Are you wondering why I’ve enclosed a packet of gum with this letter?

Well, I just wanted to say thanks and I was thinking how 'sweet' you were to give a gift earlier this year and giving you something sweet seemed appropriate.

Enjoy! (These are the new Trident Rainbow flavoured ones so they are sugar free and won't cause cavities.)’

See what we’ve just accomplished? We made our interactions with this person fun (and you do have fun with your friends, don’t you?), it wasn't a 'give me money' communication, and it was most definitely memorable. Do you think they'll see us in a favourable light the next time we do ask for money?

Remember, now is not the time for emulating the majority of your peers when it comes to fundraising. Now is the time for creativity, boldness, a sense of joy and genuine love of your donors.


  1. Another good way to give your response rates a boost is to use personal urls. An example of a Personal URL would be: and when "Jim" visits his personal url, the website will usually be customized to him. It also allows the marketer to track who is responding. Learn more at:

  2. Pamela,

    A terrific piece! Wonderfully creative expression of some "age-old" and "tried-and-true" concepts!

    Like you, I also work primarily with smaller to medium-sized nonprofits. I've always stressed the basics and the time-tested concepts and tactics, particularly for newer organizations or those with only modest histories in advancement/fundraising.

    For me, the most basic of these concepts is the idea that you always interact with and treat your donors as you would a cherished family member or longtime friend. I think that's the core of what you were trying to get at in your posting, and I agree.

    I also refer to interactions as "touches," and I emphasize for my clients that the most common and frequent touch ought to be the articulation of a sincere and resounding "thank you!"

    Years ago, I learned from some really savvy folks in direct-response marketing and fund raising the approach of saying "thanks" with very little and inexpensive tokens. The chewing gum bit is an awesome idea; never thought of it. I have sent candy to donors, but the sugar-free gum knocks me out!

    "Falling in love with your donors" is a really fantastic metaphor for what we are trying to achieve. You've hit this one out of the park!

    Thanks so much!

  3. Love this piece Pam - mostly around the idea of nuturing your donors. As consultants we often expected to walk in, do a mailing or campaign and BOOM - let's see some amazing results please!!! Well - it doesn't always work that way does it. Good donor centered fundraising is a journey. Show your donor the love time and time again and they will not only eventually fall into step along side you, but will be madly in love back!

  4. Pam, my favorite quote from your post: "In everything that you do, you should be thinking about lifetime value." When I first became a director of development, Frank Koob, a retired entrepreneur and donor kept telling me, "Plant seeds." His metaphor kept me thinking long term.

  5. Pam - This is a great article and your advice is spot on. Many of those larger nonprofit organizations do not follow the basics for retaining donors. That is one of the reasons that 1st time donors are lost.

    Small nonprofits should not be chasing after every marketing tool and method that pops up. If they focus on the basic donor-focused methods you have discussed, they will be much more likely to succeed.

  6. Fantastic:

    Larger organizations (hospitals, universities, etc.) could take a page out of this book, as well!