Avoid Donor Fatigue by Asking Less Frequently, More Strategically
In these columns I address real-life obstacles and challenges that nonprofits face in creating sustainable funding to deliver their missions and achieve their goals. Readers write via email to receive a quick consultation and perhaps have their particular problems addressed in these columns.
As a thank-you to my readers, from now through the end of the year, I am sending a complimentary copy of my book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising," to the reader whose situation is used in each week's article.
This week I want to address the concerns of the superintendent of a K-12 school who emailed me the other day asking for guidance regarding solicitation. Her challenge, although commonly found in education, also rears its head in multiprogram social-service and youth organizations.
Simply stated, the difficulty she is encountering is the fallout from asking donors too often. With year-end looming, the number of solicitations from various groups within the school accelerates to a mind-numbing total.
Typical of organizations with multiple programs or cost centers, this school has everyone from the art teacher, football booster, and various sundry activities and curriculum groups all reaching out to the same donor base, often at the same time. What she has noticed — and what caused her to write — is a very disturbing trend.
Over the six years she has served as superintendent, she has seen the number of these solicitations grow even as the total raised by the school has slightly declined each year. That's right — actually bring in less overall than the previous year.
Every organization has a fundraising "tipping point." Most never actually reach it, but many find their revenue totals plateauing with miniscule increases from year to year. It's the same demon causing the disruption in either case — donor fatigue.
The solution, of course, is to ask donors more strategically and less frequently. The research confirms this. That's well and good, but try telling the athletic boosters they have to wait their turn. You see the quandary the superintendent is in.
I've witnessed a successful move away from this scenario. In that instance, the organization in question made the strategic decision to incorporate these independent fundraising efforts under a unified appeal with the activities in question becoming budgeted into the operations of the organization.
The realignment took three years to accomplish. In the beginning, distrust was rampant. "But you'll sacrifice my program," was the oft heard refrain. It took focus, determination and considerable effort to build the trust necessary to achieve the result this organization now enjoys.
Starting with the very first year of this effort, this organization saw its aggregate fundraising totals reverse their downward trend and begin to climb. What's the aphorism, "a rising tide raises all boats"? Never was there a clearer example than this.
We're five years into the program now. The timing and content of solicitations are driven by donor preferences. Donor satisfaction has never been higher. The organization now enjoys 7 percent to 9 percent increases in its fundraising totals every year.
Every part of the organization is benefiting. Now, it is in the quiet phase of what will be the organization's largest capital campaign ever. And the organization has done it with a relatively small donor base.
It's interesting that this query should come just as another article I've written on this very subject was published. You can read it here.
I extend my thanks to the superintendent who reached out.
Please let me hear from you concerning your particular situation and the difficulties you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me, and I'll give you a quick response. I'll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Whether your organization is small or large, well-heeled or struggling from day to day, you'll benefit immeasurably from taking a good, hard look at whether your organization spends more of its time in the fundraising emergency room or makes planned visits to the wellness clinic. You'll learn what sends you to the emergency room and how not to go there — anymore than you absolutely must.
An internationally recognized philanthropy and fundraising thought leader, Larry C. Johnson trains the staff and volunteers of worthy causes to achieve real impact through the creation of reliable, growing revenue streams. He emphasizes principles before methods as the key to long-lasting success. He stresses the simple, the practical and the joyful.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles, the premier brand for educational products and services in relational fundraising and philanthropy. The Eight Principles provides digital education, live workshops and structured coaching to nonprofit organizations.
Author of the award-winning book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising," AFP named Larry Outstanding Development Executive in 2010. The Wall Street Business Network ranks him in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the USA. Larry is a graduate of Yale University. Larry speaks widely and serves on numerous nonprofit and corporate boards, including The Philanthropy Council of The Carter Center, the philanthropy of the 39th President of the U.S.