The 3 R's of the Engage Conference: Retention, Risk and Reward
Retention was also a key trend among the three case studies. Tom Harrison, CEO of Russ Reid, made it a point that it's not incumbent upon the donor to donate to what the organization wants him or her to donate to; it's incumbent upon fundraisers to figure out what donors want and ask them — and cultivate them to retain them — appropriately. Both ABS and HRC discussed their retention practices as well.
Innovation cannot happen in any sector without risk, and fundraising is no different. However, many nonprofits are hesitant to take risks for a variety of reasons — budget constraints, old-school ideology, etc. But without risk, it's very hard to get to the third R, reward.
Both ABS and HRC shared the enormous risks they've taken over the years and what they learned from them. For starters, before Joseph Pierce came on board at ABS, the higher-ups decided to stop acquisition for three years. Obviously, that is a huge risk, but one that has not been uncommon during the turbulent economic times of the past five years.
As you would suspect, that risk did not pay off, as ABS saw a decline in its donor file, so the organization decided to aggressively acquire donors after that. That also proved tricky with the cost of acquisition until it found a happy medium, acquiring donors in a more reasonable manner.
Another risk that had the crowd gasping was the decision to let 125,000 donors on the ABS file go. After careful analysis, ABS decided that those donors simply weren't the type of loyal donors they wanted, donors committed to the cause and prospects for legacy gifts — a huge source of revenue for the organization. Those 125,000 donors were mostly premium-motivated donors, and the cost of acquiring and retaining them simply didn't fit with the mission. They tended to only respond to premiums, not mission-oriented appeals.