“They are not your donors, you are one of their charities”

One of their charities.

While at the AFP International conference in New Orleans last month, I heard a quote from Mark Phillips of Bluefrog that stopped me in my tracks.

“They are not your donors; you are one of their charities.”

I wish more organizations would hear this and take it to heart. Because if they were to do this, their fundraising would get better immediately. Here’s how…

You realize that your nonprofit is in a constant battle with other nonprofits for the attention of your donor.

I find that most nonprofits act as if they are the only organization soliciting their particular donors. They assume they don’t need to attract each donor’s attention. They assume the donor will read everything they write. None of those assumptions are good ones.

Nonprofits need to realize that they are constantly competing for the attention (and dollars) of their donors. They need to work harder to get donors’ attention.

For example, this is why organizations that send out 8 appeals and 4 donor-focused newsletters are more likely to raise more than organizations who send out 4 appeals and 12 e-newsletters: the organization that communicates more relevant information more often is likely to get more attention and more donations from their donors.

So, are you communicating relevant information to your donors often enough? Are your email subject lines good? Is the envelope for your appeal mysterious? Is your writing interesting and clear? Are you actively trying to earn their attention … or just sending stuff out?

You realize you have to earn repeat donations from your donors

Your donor is hearing from a LOT of nonprofits she loves, about causes she loves. What are you saying to her to earn her next donation?

First of all, have you told her powerful stories about the impact she’s made, so that she knows her previous gift made a difference? Do you have a newsletter that regularly shares those stories?

And when you Ask, are you making a weak appeal for her to “partner” with your organization or to “become a supporter”? Or are you asking powerfully for a current need and positioning her (not your organization) as the hero?

You relentlessly focus on donor retention

Now that you know your donors “like to give around,” you become focused on keeping as many of them and their donations as you can.

So you measure donor retention to figure out what percentage of your donors you keep each year – and then you try to keep more the next year.

Why? Because “donor retention” is pretty much the same thing as “donor satisfaction.” And satisfied donors are more likely to give to your organization next year, and give more the following year, and put you in their will, etc.

Are you measuring donor retention? And are you trying to improve it?

Now it’s Your Turn

What can you do, today, that will help you keep your donors?

Is there a major donor you can call? Is there a newsletter you can start? Is there an appeal you can make stronger?

I promise you that if you work like crazy to get the attention of your donors, if you earn their repeat donations, and if you measure and focus on how many of your donors you keep, you’ll be raising more money in no time. And for a long time!


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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