The secret to retaining and upgrading donors for life lies in honoring the profound changes that occur to our donor’s expectations after they make a gift.
As fundraisers, we tend to think about our donor’s life cycle as a linear process:
We identify the prospective donor.
We research them to determine their linkage, interest and ability.
If we have a possible match we launch off a series of cultivation steps to bring our donor closer to our cause.
This all culminates in the ask, which is followed by stewarding the donor’s gift.
But, what about our donors? What does it feel like for them? Our donors have a uniquely different experience. Our donor’s first step is awareness of the cause. Then they become interested. They become educated. They get involved. Finally, they make the momentous leap and invest in our cause.
Typically the organization continues to perceive them as a prospective donor, and the communication strategy doesn’t significantly change. But the donor has fundamentally changed. They’re an investor now. They want to know how they are making an impact. They need to know their first gift made a difference before they are sold on making a second gift.
We don’t often tell our donors how their gift made a difference, and this explains why three out of four donors don’t make a second gift. I had the chance to interview Penelope Burk several months ago, and she shared the results of her latest research with me. Not surprisingly she found the number one reason that donors cited for no longer giving was oversolitication.
The shocking revelation was in how donors define oversoliciation – not as the number of appeals but by being asked to give another gift before being told their first gift had an impact. The moment that gift is made they become an investor and expect to be treated differently than when they were a prospect. Honoring that is the simple key to unlocking donor retention.
People transform right before our eyes without us noticing all the time. Kids are an excellent example. My friend and I delivered our babies within days of each other, although we had no idea we were both in the hospital at the same time. Recently her four ½ year old daughter announced to her mom that she is walking herself into class from now on, and her mom’s assistance is no longer required. My friend honored her child’s new founded independence, smiling through her tears.
The moment our donors make that gift their needs and expectations change. That change demands we treat them differently. Honoring their transformation is the secret to keeping and growing our donors for life.