Why Are Your Donors Leaving You?
I’ll never forget the little old lady. Early in my career, I called on her to discuss the college’s plan for a new library, hoping she’d become a major contributor. She served tea and little cucumber sandwiches. We chatted amiably and then got down to business.
With great enthusiasm I showed her the architect’s schematics, explained why it was a sound idea to raze the old dorm that had stood for 90 years, and how attractive the new library would be.
My confidence grew as she took it all in. She asked bright, incisive questions and didn’t wince when I suggested the amount of a gift that would represent her share of the project.
“Young man,” she said as I concluded, “I’m very impressed. But I won’t be contributing to this project.”
I was startled.
“May I ask why not?”
“Well, you see, I’m all in favor of progress, but I’m absolutely opposed to change.”
All too many of our organizations are like that little old lady. We claim we’re in favor of income growth and a sustainable future. But in practice we ignore the huge fundraising changes that threaten both. We blithely continue doing the same old things, ignoring the eventual and inevitable day of reckoning.
Surprise! That day has already arrived. Year after year for the past decade, donor-retention rates have been sinking. Today they’re at an all-time low. In a 2013 study by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, only 65 of the 2,377 organizations surveyed had a retention rate over 70 percent! That same study also found:
- Flat fundraising: Every $100 raised from new donors was offset by $100 in losses.
- Negative growth in the number of donors: For every 100 donors acquired, 107 were lost through attrition.
- Small organizations suffering most: On average, charities raising more than $500,000 lost $90 for every $100 raised. Those raising between $100,000 and $500,000 lost as much as they gained. And organizations raising $100,000 or less lost $110 for every $100 raised.