The Two Simple Keys to Keeping Donors

Nora Ellertsen, Guest Blogger 02/19/2015

“How do I find more people to donate to my organization?”

I hear it all the time. In the nonprofit world, we’re always on the lookout for new supporters. Whether it’s a foundation that might award us a grant, a corporation we hope will sponsor our big event, or an individual we’d love to write us a check, we just want MORE.

And, sure, of course we always need new people to support our work. But the thing that we often overlook in our search for NEW donors is that we could do a whole lot better at engaging with our CURRENT and FORMER donors, and in the process save ourselves a lot of time, energy and stress.

This is something that The Funding Seed is putting a lot more emphasis on this year when working with nonprofits that want to improve their fund development. How do we fundraise better for our nonprofit by really, really getting all those people who have already show they care about us to give again, give often, and give as generously as they’re able?

Here’s the great news: there’s a ton of research on this, and it’s actually pretty simple. To get a donor to give not once, but loyally, maybe even every time you ask, you need to do two things:

  1. Thank him or her immediately and sincerely.
  2. Provide a meaningful update on what his or her donation has helped to accomplish.

In fact, in her book Donor Centered Fundraising, Penelope Burk writes that, under these circumstances, 64% of the donors she surveyed said they would give more money and 74% said that they would continue giving indefinitely.

Imagine what your organization would look like if 74% of your current donors were still contributing 30 years from now. How many more people could your organization serve? What new challenges would you be able to take on? How much more of a difference would you be making in the world beyond what you’re able to do right now?

Our friends in the for-profit world already know this stuff. When they get a new customer, they do everything they can to keep that person loyal to their company. In the nonprofit world, we tend to forget, or we assume that our donors don’t really need to feel appreciated, invested, or like they are a part of the difference your organization is making in the world.

In a workshop I was doing recently here in New Orleans, I asked the group: what would it take for your nonprofit to immediately and sincerely thank every donor within 48 hours of their gift, and to provide AT LEAST one meaningful update to the donor before you ask them to give again? (That dry, formal letter you send out for the donor’s tax records doesn’t count. We’re talking here about a hand-written, hand-addressed note or a personal phone call.)

What most people said was that they would need a routine, a system that becomes so ingrained as habit that they don’t even notice that they are doing it anymore. Here were some of the ideas people came up with:

For the immediate and sincere thank you…

For the meaningful updates…

I’m a big advocate for politely stealing other people’s great ideas and making them work for your organization. Maybe you have some different ideas of your own. The important thing here is to find what works for your organization so that you can be sure to make it happen every single time. Because, when it comes down to it, your donor has already raised his or her hand to say, “I care about this cause, and I want to be a part of it.” Now it’s up to you to make sure they stay.

About Nora:

Nora Ellertsen is founder of The Funding Seed, a New Orleans-based company that teaches people how to raise money for non-profit groups. In the ten years she worked in the non-profit and fundraising field, she helped raise nearly one million dollars through grassroots fundraising, grant writing, event planning and major donor development.

Through The Funding Seed, Nora applies the parable, “Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime,” to fundraising. By coaching non-profit staff, board members and volunteers, she works to make each organization confident, strategic and self-sufficient when it comes to raising money.