Dealing With the Dreaded 'A' Word
Every nonprofit, large or small, has one thing in common. All suffer, in some degree or another, from donor attrition.
For whatever reason, donors stop giving. She loses her job or her health. He loses interest. They move and neglect to tell you.
Donor attrition is a fact of life. Don't try to compare your rate to anyone else’s, because every nonprofit has a unique set of circumstances. Source of donors (some channels attrite more than others), age of donors, even the connection donors have with your organization (for example, alumni vs. members) are all factors in your attrition rate.
So what’s a concerned fundraiser to do?
First, find out what your attrition rate is — and what it’s been. You may have a built-in report in your donor base, or you can calculate it by looking at the three kinds of donors you have each year — first-time, repeat from the prior year and reactivated from a lapsed status. (Send me an e-mail if you don’t have a tool and need help calculating your attrition rate.) Calculate it for at least the last three full calendar years. Is it going up, down or staying level?
If possible, also calculate the attrition rate by donor source. For example, if you have event-acquired donors, direct-mail-acquired donors and online-acquired donors, they probably aren’t all attriting at the same pace.
Once you know where your biggest “leakage” is occurring, you can focus on strategies to plug some holes. Are you talking to the donors in a similar manner in which they were acquired? For example, if your online-acquired donors are failing to give again, is it because you’ve been mailing to them instead of e-mailing them? Did you use one message to acquire donors (say helping children with cancer) and then switch messages (for example, to funding medical equipment) once they gave?
Pamela consults with nonprofits, helping them develop their fundraising strategy and writing copy to achieve their goals. Additionally, she teaches fundraising at two universities, hoping to inspire the next generation of fundraisers to be passionate about the profession. Previously, Pamela led the fundraising programs for nonprofit organizations. Pamela is a member of the Advisory Panel for Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, a CFRE, a graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and Dominican University, and holds a Doctorate in Business Administration from California Southern University. Contact Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @pjbarden.