[NPFX Ep. 9] Ask the Experts: Listener Questions about Nonprofit Fundraising

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Welcome to The Nonprofit Fundraising Exchange, a podcast from IPM Advancement. Our mission is to help you raise more money so you can make the world a better place.

Today’s topic: Ask the Experts — Listener Questions about Nonprofit Fundraising

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Fundraising and prospecting on a budget
  • The advantages of direct mail over digital fundraising
  • The 3 things nonprofits should do digitally
  • How often you should email donors and prospects
  • Training your fundraising staff to cultivate major gift donors
  • How to convince your board to invest in direct mail
  • Successful fundraising strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Making virtual fundraising events work for your nonprofit
  • Increasing donor retention with a strong donor value proposition

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Curtis: Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Fundraising Exchange. Today we are answering questions submitted to us from listeners like you. We’ve assembled some of my favorite IPM team members to talk about a whole range of nonprofit fundraising topics, and I’m super excited to hear what everyone has to say. So without further delay, let’s get to the good stuff and meet our panel.

Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Phaneuf. I’m the Managing Director and Creative Strategist for IPM.

Diana: Hi, I’m Diana Gardner. I’m the Vice President of Client Development at IPM.

Jack: I’m Jack Padovano, co-founder and President of IPM Advancement.

Samantha: And this is Samantha Timlick, VP of Client Services at IPM.

Curtis: And I’m Curtis Schmitt, your host and moderator today. Thank you everybody for joining me. So this is something new we’re doing today. We’re taking questions from listeners, and so this first question is from Beverly in New York, and she writes, “I’m a development director for a museum, and our operating budget keeps getting tighter. It’s becoming harder to invest in fundraising and prospecting. Where can we safely cut corners and save money?”


Budgeting for Direct Mail

Diana: So, I have to say, Beverly your question is a common one and one that we’ve been hearing since the start of this pandemic. A lot of our clients have been coming to us and saying, “I’m not so sure I can continue on with my annual fund program through direct response. I think I’m gonna have to cut from my direct mail budget. I think I’m gonna have to try and shave some pennies and focus a little bit more on digital perhaps.” And I say, “Stop. We’ve got to get creative.” My answer is the same every time. I typically tell them to cut back on testing, cut back on perhaps some creative formats and techniques and printing to shave off some of the bottom line costs that they had anticipated. And I always tell them that no matter what happens, they have to still mail and ask for gifts. I get met with a little bit of resistance, but really to tell you the truth, I think at the end they understand how insistent we are and, you know, here we are, later on and looking into the fall months and they’re so glad that they kept their foot on the gas and they’re seeing the rewards. So that’s typically one way to ensure you can cut some corners and save some money.

Curtis: So the point is to keep doing it at some level just finding the level that that allows you to keep doing it.

Diana: Exactly. Yeah, right.

Curtis: Well, we have a related question that I’d like to present next. This is from Edward in Virginia and Edward asks, he says, “We’re a mid-sized regional animal shelter and we have a limited budget for direct mail. How do I get the most bang for the buck?” So, basically he’s following up on what you just said Diana and asking where should he invest the money that he has.

Samantha: Yeah, and I would go back to exactly what Diana said in terms of package format. You can keep your appeals very simple, you know, think one-page letter, little to no color, single-sided, use a window envelope if you need to, an integrated reply piece — so instead of having a separate like a buck slip reply form, have a perforated reply form. Generally perforation, just a straight vertical perf is not terribly expensive, and it’s an easy way to keep all of the pieces together that minimizes your matching during the production process. So, if you use a window envelope and you use a letter with a perforated reply form, it’s a single match because everything is going to show through the window. Now you have far less real estate for copy, but you can make a very compelling case for support depending on how tight your messaging is and your unique value proposition. So format wise, that’s my best suggestion there.

The next thing to do is to focus on your highest performing segments. So you want to make sure your 0-12 month donors, and ideally your 0-24 month donors, are hearing from you consistently, because the greatest predictor of someone’s likelihood to give is the last time they gave to you. So going to those recent segments is going to give you the best return on investment. Then from there, branch out where you can do some of the lapsed folks, whatever times of year tend to be best for your nonprofit. For many that’s going to be a calendar year-end, but also organizations who have certain months of the year — so if you’re a cancer nonprofit, you might want to go out when it’s National Cancer month or what have you. But that’s the big thing is focus on those consistent performing segments, stay in front of them, let them help drive your revenue and then where you have room and opportunity to, branch out to some of those longer lapsed segments that maybe don’t perform as well, but that are necessary in order to keep refilling that recent segment pipeline.

Curtis: Good advice. I also want to follow up on these two questions, and maybe perhaps challenge the premise. Both of these questions are dealing with budgets being limited or tight or getting smaller, shrinking. But that’s not necessarily the case. Where might a nonprofit find funding — additional funding — for direct mail and specifically for prospecting, which I think might be the first thing to go when a nonprofit is feeling like the budget is getting tight.


How to Find Funds for Prospecting

Samantha: Yeah, you’re right, Curtis. Prospecting is often the first thing to hide, and unfortunately it’s a short-sighted decision. I understand why it’s made because — going back to return on investment — it’s not immediate like it is with your recent donors, but it really does hurt you in the long run. So two things that we’ve seen effective with clients. One is board investment if the board is, if they understand sort of where you’re going, and the importance of continuing to grow the pipeline and grow the base of the annual fund so that you can build that donor pyramid up, then often they will get behind, and invest personally or, you know, by fundraising.

In that same vein, you can sometimes find a donor who understands and is willing to act as sort of an angel investor who, you know, you can go to them and say, “Look, this is the challenge we’re facing, the budget is getting cut. This is what’s happening to our donor file year over a year.” You know, if you’re tracking your donors you’ll see you’ll know your attrition rates, you’ll know what’s likely to happen if you don’t continue adding donors into that. And you can sort of make the case for the importance of doing prospecting for the long term viability of the organization. And sometimes the right donor will step up and fund that program to get it started. And once you can get it going, it’s often easier to continue it. It’s the initial starting that can be a challenge.

Curtis: Interesting. it’s almost like fundraising for fundraising.

Samantha: Yes, exactly, which is not always an easy case to make I will admit that readily but we have seen it happen. There are people who get it.

Curtis: Before we move on, are there any other comments we want to make about budgeting or prospecting?


Integrating Digital Fundraising with Direct Mail

Russ: So I just want to say, going back to Edwards question, he mentioned he’s from a regional animal shelter and he had that, you know, limited budget for direct mail. And I would say that when you’re in a position where you have to draw back on your specs and you can’t mail the kind of, you know, maybe the length of letter that you want to mail or include a brochure or anything like that, there’s always the possibility of driving people to a landing page on your website. And there you’ll have more room to kind of make your case for support, include examples, maybe tell some stories and share some experiences of the people that you’ve helped maybe match with animals, things like that. So there are opportunities to incorporate web content into your appeals. And I would say the only thing to really keep in mind in that case is make sure that the web content you’re driving people to matches with the appeal. If you’re theming it, try to match the theme. But don’t just throw web content up and just leave it in perpetuity. Consistently go back there make sure it resonates and kind of augments what you’re saying in direct mail, and it can be very helpful and help you kind of bridge that gap between how you’d like to present yourself and what your budget allows you to do.

Curtis: I like that, integrating the direct mail with the online stuff. That actually helps me segue into our next question. So this question comes from Amelia in New York, and she writes, “I work in annual fund, at a small private college in New York. Our direct mail costs keep rising. Should we move all of our fundraising online?”

Russ: I feel for you Amelia because I was also in the trenches of higher education fundraising for a long time, and there’s often a push from higher ups and board members to do more digital. And I think for the most part, most nonprofits still haven’t cracked the code of digital fundraising. And it’s important to not chase after that shiny object, when direct mail continues to be kind of the gold standard for being reliable, being predictable, and it’s a very — direct mail continues to be the most replicable way that you can build a program. When you do a direct mail appeal, provided you can continue to do A/B testing and build your program over time, it’s just a very reliable way to build your donors and move them through the donor pipeline.

I will say that we see digital generally as doing three things really well, and number one is — and this is not necessarily for universities — but for a lot of nonprofits, it’s a great way to generate leads. Those leads might not necessarily be donors right away, they just might be people who are interested in what you do. And so it’s a good way for a lot of nonprofits to generate leads, which kind of become warm prospects. They’re folks that you can add to your list and go back to when you have a really compelling Ask for them.

The second thing that you can do is leverage rapid response giving opportunities. So again it might not be related to university fundraising but for a lot of organizations, your organization’s mission or the work you do might be related to something that happens in the environment. Say, you know you’re a local homeless shelter and something happens in your area like a tornado or something like that. And all of a sudden you’ve got a lot of clients that you need to service, and you’ve got a lot of people who will benefit from your work, but you need to raise more money for that. That would be a good example of using rapid response fundraising to capture people who might be new donors to your cause.

And the third thing that digital is really good at is getting people to complete a desired action. So sometimes that’s transactional, and you might send the direct mail appeal and drive people to a landing page, and then ask them to make their gift online with a credit card. So that’s the transactional portion of it. Other times you might have maybe an advocacy opportunity; you might want your donors to sign a petition to your governor about something related to your mission or your cause. And you might initially get to them through direct mail, but then you might have an advocacy opportunity or something on the back end — a petition, something that is not fundraising related, but involves them and engages them in a way that makes them more likely to continue to engage with your organization over time. So I would say don’t look at digital as kind of a solution to your fundraising issues, but it can be a way to augment what you’re already doing.


“How Often Should I Email Prospects and Donors?”

Curtis: Great advice. So it seems so far that we’ve established is that direct mail works — do not give up on direct mail — but there are some benefits to online fundraising. So that leads me to this next question. This one comes from Janessa. She did not give any information about her organization or where she’s from but she asks, “How often should I email my prospects and donors?”

Russ: So I’ll jump in one more time and say that it depends. You really have to think about matching your message to the folks that you’re messaging to. So are they, current donors? Are they recently lapsed? Maybe they’re long lapsed. Are they major donors? Are they event attendees? In general, it’s a really good idea to align the frequency of your email to the recency of engagement. So if you just held — in this case maybe it’s a virtual event — if you just held a virtual events, you want to get back to those virtual event participants with communication afterwards. And if you didn’t make a direct Ask at the event, or maybe even if you did, maybe that’s another opportunity to thank them for participating and then to make another Ask. When you have long lapse donors the message changes, the frequency changes, and you treat it a little bit differently than someone who might have just given a month ago, or a couple of months ago. So your success really just depends on who you’re talking to, what you’re saying to them. But overall, what you want to make sure you do, is you want to make sure that you’re sharing information that’s really valuable to them. If you just spam people with information, it doesn’t really matter; they’re just going to unsubscribe, they’re not going to want to engage with your organization. So when you ask the question, “How often should I email my constituents?” you know, it’s really dependent on how valuable you can make your communications. So the more perceived value that you provide, the more you can email them.

Samantha: And the other thing I would add to that is thinking about integrated fundraising and remembering that all of your channels should be working together. So you really need to have a comprehensive communications calendar that bucketizes or segments out your database in terms of donors, non-donors, recency, level of giving, how they’ve engaged; and look at how are you contacting them via email, also via direct mail, also via any other outreach, if you’re doing phones or if you’re doing events, so that you have a good picture of how, when, and with what you were communicating with people.


Training Your Nonprofit Staff to Cultivate Major Gift Donors

Curtis: Great. Jack, I’d like to direct a question towards you. This comes from Jose, who lives in the Bay Area in California. “I’m an executive director at a small nonprofit, 12 people, that pretty much relies on large gifts from our major donors to keep the lights on. What can I do to help my junior fundraising staff be more comfortable cultivating and soliciting these types of donors?”

Jack: Good question. What you don’t say, Jose, is how many development staff folks you do have, but since most of your fundraising revenue is coming from major donors, I’ll assume you have maybe one or two people on your development staff, and the program is probably not very diversified. So let me address your question in three parts. I think first, part of an executive director’s job is to provide mentorship to his staff or her staff, to help them grow professionally. If you are the primary contact with the donors, perhaps you can start taking your development director to major donor meetings with you as a trusted second. The partnership between an executive director and a development director can’t be overstated. Your donors have to know that you trust your staff implicitly, so start involving them in your donor meetings. Then trust your staff to develop their own relationship with donors. You know, it can start off as simple as a phone call reminder for an event or meeting. Maybe it’s coffee. Just let it be organic and most importantly authentic. You don’t want to push it, and you don’t want to force it if it’s not right. That’s not right. But the key is keeping your staff involved in the meetings, building that trust, and making that trust visible to donors.

Second, I’d say, make sure you’re investing in professional development for your staff. Help them grow smarter and wiser in their craft. You know, fundraising is a skill. And there’s truly a lot to learn. Giving them every opportunity to meet others in the profession, to learn from others with more experience, and to meet and share best practices with their peers, is incredibly helpful.

I mentioned earlier that I think your revenue stream isn’t very diversified so my advice here is diversify that revenue stream. You’ve got a lot of eggs in the major gift basket. And I’m thrilled you’ve got major donors who care enough about your mission to keep your lights on and keep you operating. And I’m sure they will be thrilled when they no longer have to carry that burden on their own. So make sure you’re researching and applying for foundation grants to keep your programs going. Mine your database, make sure you’re sending direct mail, email to them at least four times a year. And if you can afford it, invest in a donor acquisition campaign, because you know it’s critical for the reasons that were already mentioned today that you build a pipeline of donors, and keep it filled. Most first time donors won’t make a second gift to your organization, so we need to make sure we’re continually seeking those first time gifts and asking for a second gift. And once that second gift is made they’re much more likely to stay with you, to stay with your organization, to be engaged. And that gives you the opportunity to start stewarding them and showing them the impact of their giving, moving them up to that major gift level.

Samantha: And if I could jump in on the professional development side, and also, I will include a shameless plug. Sometimes it is worthwhile to bring in an outside voice. Even as the leader, you have to recognize that sometimes maybe people are sick of hearing from you or they need that sort of third party validator to come in. Or maybe you’re a great leader, and you can really mobilize your team but you don’t quite know the right path forward to create processes and procedures that everyone can follow and a way to hold folks accountable without them feeling picked on. So that’s a good opportunity to look at bringing in an outside consultant specifically to work on major donor stuff. That is something that IPM has done very successfully with a number of organizations both large and small, and it’s something I would really look into, you know, through us or not, it’s worth considering.

Hi, this is Curtis from IPM Advancement jumping in for a moment. If you’re a nonprofit professional who has questions about your program, or maybe you feel like you’ve taken your advocacy, fundraising, or membership effort as far as you can and you need some fresh ideas, then we have a special offer for you today.

NPFX podcast listeners can get a free 30-minute consultation with IPM, no strings attached, when you go to ipmadvancement.com/free.

Just enter a few details, and an IPM team member will contact you to follow up. It’s that easy. That website again is ipmadvancement.com/free. Thanks for listening, and we hope to talk to you soon. Now let’s return to the Q&A.


Data Supporting the Value of Direct Mail

Curtis: This next question kind of goes back to the point we were making about the value of direct mail, but it’s coming at it from a little bit of a different angle. This comes from Rubin in Washington DC, and Ruben writes, “I’m a board member who used to own a marketing agency. I’m retired now and was recently appointed head of the board development committee. I understand the value of direct mail fundraising, but how do I convince fellow board members that there’s still value in direct mail. Most are only interested in making investments in online or web, and I just don’t see the numbers working for digital fundraising?”

Jack: So Rubin, as Russ so eloquently stated earlier, you know, digital fundraising is that new shiny penny and board members are going to be naturally drawn to it. But honestly, unless it’s part of a multi-channel outreach strategy, it’s sure to deliver mediocre results on its own. Why? Because you know emails and online ads, they generate unfortunately a much lower response rate versus direct mail — and even telephone, in some cases — which drives the cost of fundraising sky high. Not to mention that emails are likely to get caught in a spam filter or deleted before they’re even opened. And really only a small percentage of people are clicking online ads and fewer still take the action that you’re asking them to take. Direct mail, on the other hand, gets your name noticed, and actually excites people enough that they actually want to respond. But don’t take my word for it. You know, go at them with some hard stats, and here are three good ones.

There’s so many others but the Direct Marketing Association recently released a study that showed that response rates for direct mail is more than 30 times the response rate for email. 30 times higher for direct mail. And campaigns that include direct mail delivered 27% higher ROI, and 40% higher acquisition levels, versus campaigns without mail. And then when integrated, when digital and direct mail are combined, conversion rates are upwards of 40% higher versus campaigns without mail. So, you know, in my mind, Rubin, direct mail isn’t old school, it’s not old news. It’s a touch point that needs to be incorporated into your overall fundraising strategy to maximize your ROI. In the end, a successful strategy isn’t about choosing direct mail versus digital, it’s about incorporating both online and offline programs so that you’re creating that multi-channel experience for donors, and most importantly for prospective donors.

Curtis: I really like that point about bringing data into the conversation because hopefully boards are making their decisions based on data and not simply emotion or what’s shiny and novel. So let’s then shift gears and talk a little bit about what’s kind of going on for all of us these days which is COVID-19 and all the changes that it’s brought about. We’ve gotten a question from several people that basically boils down to: “How can I raise more money during the COVID-19 pandemic?” And I know that’s a general question, so maybe we could just give people kind of a way into dealing with fundraising in this new time of a pandemic.


How to Ask for Donations during COVID-19

Russ: Well let me take the first crack at this one. And let me share an infuriating answer to this question. So the question, “How can I raise money or more money during the COVID-19 pandemic?” You have to ask. But the trick is, in this environment, you have to ask in the right way. And I think that’s really important. Early on what I saw happening in the fundraising environment where some organizations really take a very broad view in simplifying the Ask related to COVID-19 by saying, “COVID-19 has affected our operations, And you can help us, please give us money.” And it was a very simplified way of basically trying to leverage this awful thing that’s happening to raise money and frankly it’s off putting, and it might work in the short term, but it’s just not good fundraising. What we want to see people do is say, to recognize, yes, COVID-19 has had an impact but here’s how. And mainly that’s got to do with your beneficiaries, so it’s got to do with your beneficiaries, the people you serve. How has COVID-19 impacted them? How has COVID-19 impacted how you provide service to them? What challenges has it created for you in your work to serve? And I think that’s the most important thing to describe when you make your case for support.

Under this kind of umbrella of COVID-19, and this terrible global pandemic, when you get to that point where you’re making the case, I think it’s important to remember that, you know, people have a lot of different causes they give to and urgency is really driving giving right now. So the most important thing in terms of COVID, in my mind, is that when you make that Ask, and when you provide those proof points to really make the case for your organization that people should give right now because it’s really important, that case for support, that Ask, has to be really authentic. You can’t fake it. It’s got to be an authentic, urgent case for support. And I think that will resonate with people, and if you can do that, I think, especially over the next year and a half, maybe even longer, that’s going to be really important because over time you don’t want donors to just give once for an emergency appeal. You really want to go back again and again to that touch point of, you know, we’re serving people, these are actually human beings behind the work that we’re doing. And we want to have a positive impact on them, and then connect the donor to that work, and I think that will serve you really, really well.

Diana: I’d like to add to that as well and talk a little bit more about the tactics versus the overall case for support. I couldn’t agree with Russ more about being very explicit and specific about what are the outcomes of COVID-19, as it relates to your mission, the people who you serve, and the good of the organization, and being as specific as possible to further elevate that case for support. But I think from a tactical standpoint it’s never been more important to have cohesion amongst all departments within a nonprofit organization to ensure that you’re collaborating specifically on not just messaging but the frequency of your communications with your comms department or your marketing department, particularly if you are a public health organization. Nonprofit organizations need to be able to distinguish what is education in terms of information you’re disseminating versus what is fundraising and ensuring you have a healthy balance between the two because they’re very interconnected on so many levels. So I would say, in addition to case for support and overall messaging is a very close alignment and alliance with the other offices of the organization who send out communications and having that the right amount of stewardship, education, and fundraising direct response pieces going out during that time.


Are Virtual Events Worth It?

Curtis: I like that. That reminds me of a point that came up in a previous podcast episode about COVID-19 being a time, really an opportunity for nonprofits to find their weaknesses and work on them because now it’s more important than ever. So sticking with the subject of COVID-19, we have a question from Zoe in Los Angeles: “I fundraise for a large national cancer research-related nonprofit. Most of our funds come from in person peer-to-peer fundraising like charity walks, bike rides, etc., which has been hampered by the COVID-19 shutdown and social distancing. We’re worried that virtual events won’t deliver the same punch as our large in person events. Would you recommend virtual events, and if so, how do we do them so they work?

Diana: So I’ll take this question because I can’t think of a greater example than one of my current clients now who’s been forced to move their in-person, largest revenue generating event to a virtual platform. And they’ve had to act quickly, they had to act swiftly, because their event is actually next week, and they were concerned about what is the impact and should we actually even do this type of virtual format because we really pride ourselves on having such an intimate experience for event attendees and so on and so forth. And what they found is currently as of actually last week, they have more than doubled their projections of the revenue because guess what? They did it right. So you should absolutely double down on the virtual events and do things like, for example, engaging live auctioneers and performance artists and celebrities and household names, all leading up to the actual event. The other thing that they’ve done so successfully is typically these galas or these in-person events have targeted a very specific type of donor or someone who is a bit higher wealth threshold, but what my client has done is they’ve actually lowered the threshold to ensure for some sort of community — giving access to this event for their entire community of donors, not just the higher wealth donors. And so folks who typically aren’t able to give at those higher mid to high level thresholds. So for example, to the $200 — the mid level donors, $250 to I would say about $999 — those donors now have access to this event because they’ve made it fun. They’ve created a live stream, all access pass.

And so there are very, true successful ways to ensure that those virtual events will in fact deliver that same panache, that same excitement that you would expect from in-person events. You just have to start early with the planning. You have to get extremely creative and lineup sponsors; there are so many people within their community who are just sitting on the sidelines wanting to help, wanting to engage, wanting to lift up our nonprofit partners. And one of the best ways to be able to ensure that is to provide them with some branding opportunities in a digital format and digital event where they’ll have that real estate that they otherwise would have in an in-person event, and they’d have it in a digital event. So yes, the answer is, of course, there are ways to do it. And you should continue to double down on those virtual events and get creative to make them work

Samantha: And to chime in here, I think one of the biggest knocks I hear from clients and prospective clients asking about doing these types of events is saying, Well, isn’t everyone doing them? Aren’t I just another voice in the crowd, and how am I really going to stand out?” And to me it’s no different than saying, “Well isn’t everybody sending out mailings?” or “Isn’t everybody doing email?” It’s the same thing. So to Diana’s point, if you’re really thinking about the folks that you are engaging with, and you’re meeting them in a way that is exciting to them that they’re going to come, they’re going to give, and you can do even better. But Diana’s client is not the only one that we’ve seen with this increase in revenue. We just had another one wrap up their event — I think they just got the final numbers at about two weeks ago — and their revenue was up 20% over their standard in-person event. So it is working.

Russ: I also want to add that the folks that we’re talking to who are going to the virtual events also are seeing better margins on these events. A virtual event doesn’t have the same costs associated with putting it on, with renting a facility, catering it, getting all the different kind of things in place that you would need to put on a really high-end event. They’re able to realize that, you know, even though they might gross $100,000, maybe they have $150,000 or $200,000 less in expenses. And so the net for some of these virtual events that we’ve seen has been really good for most organizations.

Diana: I would just add one more point to that because that’s a really good point, Russ, because the net has been so favorable. But one of my clients is even talking about now offering the option to go virtual next year. So when things hopefully return to normal and we can meet again in person and have those intimate in-person experiences, they’re going to also provide the alternative for a virtual, intimate experience because that net margin looks so good.

Jack: Hey, Curtis, one other thing. I got a question a few days ago from a client who’s in the midst of a capital campaign. And they said, “Hey, Jack, is it time to put this on hold?” And, you know, our enthusiastic answer was absolutely no. You know, if you’ve been planning a campaign for months maybe longer, you know, the need for your campaign has not evaporated because of COVID; the need for your mission hasn’t evaporated because of what’s happening and the current events. Donors understand that, and they will support you as long as the case for support is strong, whether it’s a capital campaign, an annual fundraising event, all the things we just mentioned. That’s the key.

Curtis: So much great advice from you guys there and, you know, in particular I think my favorite part was this idea of creatively rethinking the event. Not just simply trying to take what was your live event and making a virtual version of that, but really creating something that’s exciting in its own right and takes advantage of all the opportunities that virtual provides. Our next question, we’re going to change gears again here. So this one, his is a common question I’m sure you’ve gotten many, many times. But Raymond from the Boston area — he’s in annual giving at a hospital foundation in New England, and he wants to know, “How do I increase donor retention and minimize attrition?”


Increasing Donor Retention with a Strong Donor Value Proposition

Russ: Raymond, I will speak specifically to the type of organization you’re in but this also applies pretty much across the board for everybody. In a hospital foundation, a lot of times your donors are going to be people who had some kind of experience at the hospital, right? Maybe most of your acquisition might come from like a grateful patient program or something like that. And those folks — it’s really interesting. We see a lot of one and done giving from those folks. They’re very grateful for the experience they had, they want to show their appreciation for the doctors and nurses and other staff who took care of them. And so they make a gift and then you never hear from them again. And I think that this also happens in programs that aren’t grateful patient, and other nonprofits, and I really think what it comes back to is the donor value proposition. Aside from making your case for support and having a sense of urgency, and all the things that we’ve talked about previously and all the things you can learn about in previous blog posts we’ve done and white papers, the donor value proposition is going to drive engagement with your donors. It’s the stuff that they get in exchange for their gift to you, and their association with you.

And those drivers of giving fall into two categories. There are intrinsic drivers, which is just kind of the warm fuzzies of giving. And those are related to our altruistic tendencies. And they’re actually pretty rare, they don’t drive giving as much as you would think. And on the other side you have extrinsic drivers, and those are things that people get in return — kind of, you know, recognition, being featured in a donor report, maybe getting a phone call thank you from you. Those tangible things that people can get as donor benefits. And I think when you look at your donor value proposition, a lot of it has to do with whether you’re providing value to those folks within those intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. And so take a look at that and put yourself in the donor’s shoes. If you were a donor to your organization, and you kind of looked at the menu of stuff that you get — the feelings that you get, the actual tangible benefits that you get — is it enough to keep you giving year after year after year? And if it’s not, if the question is no, what can you do to increase that value proposition, to add to that value proposition?

Samantha: And to come in on this one, I think, Russ, you said this earlier, I mean, you have to be asking. Just because somebody has given a gift to you recently doesn’t mean you should stop asking them for a gift. And there’s a balance to be struck to be sure. But folks are not going to stay on your file if you are not asking them for gifts. So, let’s start there. I’ve also — on other podcasts you guys have heard me rail about stewardship and the importance of making sure that you are providing value — again just like Russ said, that goes along with those intrinsic benefits. So what is it, what are they getting back, how are they seeing their gifts in action? And that really motivates, and closing the loop on that really helps motivate people to continue giving to your cause. Donors don’t stop giving when they care about what you’re doing and when you remind them of why this is important to them. So if you can make that connection, you’re building those strong relationships and you’re providing value to them, they will keep giving if they believe in your cause and in your mission and you’re being a good steward. You know, I won’t say it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the outside world, but that stuff can sort of fall away because like Jack said, even during a pandemic, you still need to serve the people that you’re serving. And the folks who believe in your mission understand that and they’ll stand with you to support that.



Curtis: And I think that’s a great message to end on today — recognizing donors as valued partners in serving others. Good stuff. So that wraps up our first listener Q&A episode. Thanks to our panel for sharing their insights and expertise. I’d also like to thank our listeners who submitted such great questions. Now we received more questions than we could answer in a single episode so look for a follow-up Q&A coming soon. If you have a question or challenge your nonprofit is facing that you’d like us to talk about, please email us [click this link]. That email address will be in the show notes, along with a list of resources related to topics we discussed today. If you liked this episode, please subscribe in Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app. And leave us a review. We also invite you to explore our growing library of whitepapers, infographics, and blog articles in the Resources section of the IPM website. That address is ipmadvancement.com/resources. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.


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