Keeping donors is just as important as getting them. That’s been the focus over at The Agitator recently, and it’s a good thing to focus on.
One recent post featured the case of a Canadian organization, Animal Alliance Environment Voters (AAEV): How To Retain 70% Of New Donors. The case, coming direct from the organization, included these powerful facts:
- 70% retention rate for new donors; 90% for those who have given more than one gift.
- All new supporters come through word of mouth and earned media.
- The organization has grown.
- Net income has increased dramatically.
For all this success, they credit their excellent treatment of donors. And I’m with them all the way. That is the path to success. But then they drop this bomb about donor acquisition:
We don’t believe it is ethical to tell a donor that “your donation will save [something]” when in fact the organization is using all of the donor’s contribution and most future contributions to pay off postage, printer bills, ad buys, or TV time…. In most direct response programs, new, modest and small donors will never make a positive contribution to an organization’s mission unless they die and leave a sizable bequest.
That is not an accurate description of an organization that’s actively acquiring donors. It’s a description of an incompetent and/or unethical organization.
It’s a foolish claim to throw out there, and it seems to reflect ignorance of how fundraising works.
And if that weren’t enough, they go on to suggest that organizations should suspend all new donor acquisition for five years, and spend that time figuring out how to care for donors.
That’s like advising someone to stop eating until they have a PhD in nutrition. Five years with no new donors would put most organizations into an irreversible death-spiral. All the enlightened donor respect in the world would make no difference.
So my guard is up. These comments make me wonder if AAEV understands its own situation.
One of the hallmarks of a dying donorfile is amazing retention rates, superb campaign response, and other excellent loyalty measurements. These numbers all get better and better as the file atrophies. When you aren’t getting new donors, those who stay with you longest are your elite, the real believers.
I’ve known many organizations that were smugly proud of their retention rates — and completely unaware that they were in the middle stages of dying.
It’s possible that AAEV really does get enough new donors to keep them viable, or even growing. That’s not normal, but if it’s happening, good for them. But for now, I’m skeptical.
I can’t go along with The Agitator and say AAEV deserves a raise. I think they need an in-depth performance review. This should quickly be followed by either that raise or by termination, depending on the findings of the review.
The money-back guarantee isn’t special any more. We expect it with almost everything we buy. There’s a reason for that, and it’s explored at the Neuromarketing blog at What’s A Return Policy Worth?. Turns out return policies cause customers to mentally add value to the thing they’re buying:
… there’s a specific value that customers apply to returns, or, more accurately, the OPTION of returning a product…. how much more the consumer will pay for a strong return policy.
That value varies. The higher the risk of the purchase not being right, the more value the customer places on a return policy. Men’s shirts — which you can generally count on working out — are seen as worth .19 when they can be returned. Women’s Shoes — a high-risk buy with lots of ways to go wrong — get an additional .81 in perceived value when there’s a return policy.
That’s why retailers offer and brag about their return policies. It’s like lowering their price without getting less from the sale.
So why not apply this to nonprofits? There is “risk” to charitable giving, as far as donors are concerned: Maybe it’s an unethical organization that won’t use their giving for the cause. Maybe the organization is inefficient, and little of their gift will make it to the cause. Maybe the charity is a scam. These aren’t unreasonable fears; these things happen all the time.
New donors especially don’t know you; that first gift is often a leap of faith — a leap many are unwilling to take in the first place.
You could lower these barriers to response by showing donors it’s possible to return a gift if it doesn’t “fit.”
You probably already have an unwritten and unproclaimed return policy. If a donor calls and says she didn’t want to give after all, you’re probably going to refund what she gave, right?
Why not get some value for the courtesy?
The not-so-dirty little secret in retail is that hardly anyone ever returns stuff. This is why we see “double your money back” guarantees. It’s not as daring as it looks.
An open return policy or guarantee on giving just might be the thing that frees nervous, fence-sitting donors to join your cause.
You know the mythical elevator speech? It’s that 30-second rundown of what you are your company does that you would give if you talked to strangers on elevators.
Tom Ahern, writing at Asking Matters (Make an Elevator Speech that Works), describes an exercise he does with nonprofit people where they write their own elevator speeches. The result is discouraging:
Ninety-nine times out of 100, the person delivering her elevator speech never mentions the donor. The donor plays no role at all in the elevator speech.
So true. So painfully true. And I wish it were only true of elevator speeches. Truth is, donors are absent from almost all things nonprofits say about themselves. From mission statements to annual reports, donors are rarely glimpsed. Even a lot of fundraising manages to avoid mentioning donors.
It’s all about what they do, how they do it, and how effective they are at it. Usually in their own internal and impenetrable jargon.
There’s no problem with that if you don’t need donors to fund your work (the Gates Foundation comes to mind). But if you need donors, you really ought to proclaim it. Why should anyone care how cool you are — unless they are part of the coolness?
A homeless shelter might say it like this: We make it possible for generous people in our community to help the homeless get off the streets — permanently.
If you think properly about donor and their importance, you’ll naturally start revising your elevator speech and everything else.
If you think clearly about fundraising, you realize it’s largely a form of “elder marketing.” But that knowledge can lead you astray if you don’t know your audience. That’s the important point from the Direct Creative Blog at The dos and don’ts of marketing to today’s seniors.
Seniors nowadays have some different approaches to their seniorhood than previous generations. Boomers, especially, are entering old age not thinking of themselves as old:
… when you’re marketing to seniors, the first thing you have to remember is that you don’t call them “seniors.” And that goes double for terms like “old” or “elderly.” In fact, any direct reference to chronological age is a big no-no. People know how old they are.
This is a new thing. Youth culture being carried into old age.
Smart fundraisers speak into the conditions and psychology of their older audience without saying so. What you need to know is this:
- As we age, the right brain gets more dominant. Stories and emotional appeals become even more important for motivating action.
- Edgy, cool, modern design that you love is often just puzzling and annoying.
- Careful with pop-culture references and approaches. People over 60 have a different pop-culture reservoir.
- Eyesight deteriorates with age. Larger type and clean, clear layouts are necessary.
Do all that. Just don’t mention that you’re doing it because they’re old.
Here’s a quick and shockingly easy way to improve your online fundraising, from John Haydon’s blog: Five ways to simplify landing pages on your nonprofit’s website.
It all boils down to removing barriers from your landing pages:
- Get rid of links to your social media sites.
- Get rid of any polls, ads or news announcements.
- Get rid of any links going to external websites.
- Reduce the amount of links going to other pages within your website.
- Eliminate sidebars that contain widgets, calendars, blog posts, or any other unrelated content.
Or, to slightly revise the list:
- Have your landing page do only one thing: collect the gift.
If your landing page is on a template that has all the usual site navigation, change it. And no matter how cool your widgets and special features are, strip them away from landing pages.
Someone who’s on a landing page is generally there expecting to take action. Creating distractions and side roads leads to elevated abandon rates.