Building the Donor Pipeline

The 2013 donor retention rates are in:  39%, according to Bloomerang, a donor management company that has been tracking retention rates for many years.  Annually, we lose 61% of all our donors. 

With donor retention rates at all-time lows, one of the things that all nonprofit organizations have to work toward is acquiring new donors.  We have to keep building the pipeline by finding new donors.

With good reason, much has been written about how to retain donors and people across our profession, in workshops, webinars, conference presentations, journals, and blogs have advised, coached, and advocated that we take steps to stem the tide of donor attrition.  This is all excellent advice.  We do absolutely need to work to retain our existing donors—especially since an existing donor costs less to retain than a new one does to acquire—but even if we’re able to improve retention 10-20%, we’re still in need of aggressive annual efforts to acquire new donors.

Further, while there are specific steps we can take to improve donor retention (through, for examples, prompt and sincere thank you notes and relevant follow-up communications), the reality is that we live in a day and age in which loyalty—though valued—is not often practiced.  For decades, we’ve been incentivized by credit card companies, banks, auto insurers, satellite tv services, and cell phone plans (to name just a few) to jump ship from one company to a competitor.  “Open a new account and receive…” “Switch your plan today and we’ll give you your next 2 months free” have been common offers.  Less common have been the “It’s your anniversary with us and we’re celebrating by…”  In addition, many “loyalty programs”—like frequent flier miles—capriciously alter the benefit structures or cancel rewards altogether.  The businesses with which we interact don’t seem to value our loyalties—why should donors expect nonprofits to?

With retention and loyalty low, nonprofits not only have to engage in the uphill, counter-cultural battle for achieving the elusive loyalty, they also have to be constantly acquiring new donors. So how does a nonprofit do that?  How does a nonprofit organization constantly rebuilding its pipeline?

The great news is that there are as many different ways to introduce yourself to new donors as there are nonprofit organizations.  Some of the best ways to do that are to make opportunities for friend-raising through things that you are already doing or to build friend-raising activities around your program.

Recently, the Director of Development for Glisson Camp & Retreat Center (the camp on which I live), decided to offer an opportunity to a limited number of parents to come early for a behind-the-scenes peek at camp.  Each Friday, parents have to come to camp anyway to collect their children so the development director decided to build-in an opportunity to introduce the parents to the program in an experiential way, inviting some to come early and eat at the dining hall, observe the campers singing, and enjoy the natural beauty.  The Development Director and others shared the why behind what the camp does.  The parents were offered insight into how activities were chosen, how they were led, and how the activities of the week help to build leadership skills, confidence, and a community of faith. 

Although the development director’s idea had been greeted with a great deal of skepticism, the response was overwhelming.  The parents loved it.  They raved about it.  It gave them a shared experience with their children and as their children bubbled over happily about their week at camp, the parents had unique insight into what their children were communicating.  Now the development director is following up appropriately with the prospects who participated.

Think about how you can invite new people “in” to see your program in action, to experience what you are doing. 

Want a list of suggestions?  Follow this link to a list of 101 suggestions for friend raising for your nonprofit.  Steal a great idea from this list or use this list to get started brainstorming with your board and staff members about what you can do to make sure you’re always building the pipeline because, while we do need to address attrition, we also need to ensure that we continue to find new friends for the good work we do.

Share your favorite friend raising idea.  What works for your organization?