Nonprofit Horror Stories: The Mysteriously Disappearing Donor

The Mysteriously Disappearing DonorTwo weeks ago, we highlighted George, the non-entrepreneurial leader who led his organization to financial peril. These tall, but true tales are terrifying and today’s nonprofit horror story is nothing short of that.

Merri was delighted when a new donor pledged more than $10,000 at a large event, with the intention of making it a monthly gift. Three months of a $10,000 recurring donation came like clockwork, but sadly, things didn't go as planned...

THE HORROR: The night of the gala arrived, where Merri, the Development Director, was introduced to Gilbert, new to the organization, but eager to support. Gilbert publicly announced at the gala that he would be making a $10,000 donation and that he wanted it to be recurring. Cheers and champagne spread like wildfire amongst the crowd. Merri could not believe her ears!

The first three donations came in like clockwork. And then silence. Months had gone by and she had not heard from Gilbert. She roamed through the office halls asking other staff members if they had interacted with Gilbert lately. No one knew who Merri was referring to. Was Gilbert a ghost?

Finally, Merri gave him a call. “Good morning Gilbert, it’s Merri! I haven’t heard from you since you made your last incredible $10,000 donation a few months ago! I wanted to follow up to see how you’re doing,” said Merri as she began the conversation. “Good morning Merri. Glad you called because I would like to discontinue my monthly donation to your organization. The reason why you haven’t heard from me is because I haven’t heard from you once I made that donation,” said Gilbert.

Merri was confused. Gilbert was on her email list, where he was recognized in a previous email blast, had received a handwritten thank you note, and had even been given a plaque!

He hung up the phone never to be heard of or seen again…except for when Merri attended a similar organization’s gala to gain ideas, where Gilbert was recognized for his latest donation to the organization’s endowment.

THE RESOLVE: Gilbert’s last gruesome words perfectly sums up the mistake that Merri and her organization made when he activated his donation. Due to a lack of meaningful follow up and personalized stewardship, Merri’s organization lost what could have potentially been a $120,000/year donation.

Sadly, situations like Merri’s are far from the exception. As an industry, donor retention is a problem. For every $100 in new donations nonprofits gained in fiscal year 2014 over the previous year, they lost $95 in lapsed or reduced donations, according to a new survey.

Before you dive into panic mode, consider these cultivation steps to avoid creating more mysteriously disappearing (and disappointed) donors:

1.     Thank them for their donation, and ask how and if they want to be thanked or recognized.

It’s the simplest thing. Whenever somebody makes a donation to your organization, no matter how famous or normal they are, no matter how small or large the donation is, sending along a thank you will show to your donors that you’ve correctly received the donation and that you are appreciative of their gesture to further supporting your mission.

But when it comes to thanking your donor, too much can never be too much. Being thoughtful and going above and beyond will show just how much the positivity of a donation spreads throughout the organization, and it’s not a one-person responsibility. The following people should be part of the thank you process:

  • Anybody who may have connected the donor to the organization, this could be a personal note, a quick call or email
  • A board member, which should warrant a personal call
  • Volunteers or constituents could offer updates and thanks

2.     Include them on more than just the e-Newsletter

For those of us with an overflowing email list, an e-Newsletter gets lost in the noise. You can’t just stop at an email. Make phone calls, invite them to see your program in action, or even just forward them an article about the industry to let them know you’re thinking about them. So, an e-Newsletter should only be PART of the stewardship.

3.     Ask for guidance

Are you one of those people that hate voicemail or email? Only operate by text message like a true millennial? Guess what, your donor may feel the same. Ask them how they want to be involved before throwing the kitchen sink at them. Also, they may be your best advisor on how to connect and engage with your other donors. 

4.     Remember the little things

Not everyone has photographic memories, but find out and write down birthdays, spouse names, and hobbies. You can’t just look at donors as people who want to give their money away. These are long-term relationships that require thoughtfulness. Evolve your perspective and see donors as humans who are looking to connect on a deeper level with your organization. 

5.     Follow up AGAIN.

Following up is crucial to donor retention. This is the opportunity where your organization can create a relationship with your donors. Have your Executive Director or Director of Development go out with the donor to find out why this individual gave, what this individual is most interested in, what they want to know about the organization and how they want to continue the relationship. Additionally, if your organization serves a certain population, sending along a handwritten note (you can be as creative as having a client create art, the sky’s your limit) from someone you serve will make their donation even more personable and emphasize how direct their impact can be.

Ultimately, the key to donor retention is making sure that your donors feel like they are truly investing in the organization when they are compelled to donate, and show exactly how they are making an impact. Not all stewardship is created equal. Take the time to get to know your donors to further personalize their buy-in to the organization.

Curious about developing cultivation and stewardship strategies that fit your organization and its donor base? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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