Stewardship: Part 2

By Todd Cohen

In the late 1990s, looking for better ways to recognize donors, fundraising consultant Penelope Burk discovered that poor donor relations were driving massive donor-attrition rates that “are not spoken about freely in the fundraising business.”

Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research in Toronto, conducted two big surveys of hundreds of donors and fundraisers in the United States and Canada.

The findings surprised her, she says, revealing a huge gap between what donors said would prompt them to give more generously, and how charities actually dealt with donors.

Instead of long-term cultivation of donors who already had made a gift, the surveys found, charities were investing their time and money waging high-volume direct-marketing campaigns, even though one of two donors fail to give the second time they are asked, and nine of 10 stop giving by the fifth time they are asked, Burk says.

“The only profitable donor is a retained donor,” she says. “A donor you get only once is a donor you have lost money on. Retaining donors long-term is the only way you really make money.”

While more than nine in 10 charities responding to the surveys said they published lists of donors’ names, just over half of donors said having their name published would not cause them to be more loyal to a charity, make a bigger gift or be more generous sooner, and that they preferred not to be recognized.

Nearly one in five donors said that while they understood that publishing their names might have marketing value for charities, publication still would not cause them to ratchet up their giving.

Of the seven in 10 donors who did not want public recognition, one in three said publishing their names actually might cause them to stop giving.

Other stories in the series:

Part 1: Charities aim to be better stewards by engaging donors

Part 3: Personal contact a strategy to boost giving.

Part 4: Engaging donors tied to making their impact personal.

Part 5: Charities engage donors to build their fundraising base.

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