The Cost of Disengaged Donors

Published: over 3 years ago by Elizabeth Fu.

We often focus our energy on getting new donors, but the real key is to cultivate our existing donor base. Two-thirds of potential donors are lost by organizations. Who are these two-thirds? They are habitual/repeat donors who an organization may recognize, but doesn’t know how to further engage. This is a key takeaway I heard at a recent fundraising workshop.

How do different boards and organizations overcome this hurdle? I’m intrigued by this predicament and raise the following points:

  • Analytics. The most basic question is do we know who the habitual donors are? Are there individuals who donate each and every year? Are there individuals who attend fundraisers routinely?
  • Acknowledgments. Are we acknowledging these individuals for their kind donation and attendance at our events? If so, is it the appropriate level or type of acknowledgement or is there something more we can do (e.g. email blast versus personalized thank you)? If not, how can we show our appreciation?
  • Connection. Do we understand their connection to the organization? Are they volunteers who support the mission? Can they relate to the mission on a more personal level?
  • Reaching Out. How can we as board members and organizations reach out to these individuals? For events, perhaps we see a group of familiar attendees. A simple introduction from a board member or a representative of the organization can open doors and provide greater connections. Through a conversation we can learn more about these individuals and how they are connected to the organization.

In business there is a marketing metric on the cost of acquiring a new customer. Applying that to non-profits, are efforts better spent cultivating the donor base we have already invested in developing, rather than incrementally seeking new donors. What are your thoughts? What are some other ideas? Do we have tools or tips to share? I’m interested to hear how other boards and organizations further engaging their existing donor base. Add comments and let’s continue the conversation.

Elizabeth Fu is a member of the Open Books Associate Board as well as a volunteer at its bookstore in River North. She is a Consultant with the Government Finance Officers Association's Research and Consulting Center. She also sits on the All A-Board Alliance Steering Committee.


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