Fundraising Q/A: How can we reconnect with major donors who have stopped giving?

Here’s a common error: Your donor makes a gift, gets a thank you, and that’s it. Donor retention is an essential part of the cycle of giving, and warrants focused attention. Here are three ways to sustain donor interest and commitment to your cause:

  • Be sure to keep them up to date on developments in your field, the work that your organization is doing, and the impact that their gift is having.
  • Offer opportunities to be engaged in your organization in small and large ways, with the ultimate one being a board role.
  • Always be on the watch for new initiatives that may be of interest to your donor, especially if his gift was for a finite project.

donor-retentionDonor retention is a fine art, however. When you find that a major donor has slipped (or run) away, it’s time for some root cause analysis. The basic question is “Why?” and the best but often overlooked approach is simply to ask a lapsed donor what caused him to stop giving.

It often comes back to the four questions. You had to earn a “Yes” to each one, to get that initial gift. If even one turns to “No,” it may turn off a donor. Let’s look at some common pitfalls:

  • Are you doing important work? Your donor may have found another organization with a more compelling mission or better track record. Are you telling a compelling story about your work, and do you have clear measures of success that will inspire donors to re-up?
  • Are you well managed? Financial mismanagement is a sure fire way to lose a donor. He also may become disenchanted with management’s performance, or be disappointed by a changing of the guard.
  • Will my gift make a difference? Failure to report on the impact of the donor’s gift is the worst offense. But if the initiative that the donor is funding isn’t living up to its promises or you aren’t able demonstrate “bang for the buck,” you may be in trouble.
  • Will the experience be satisfying to me? This is where what seem to be small things – like an incorrect tax receipt – can add up to a big problem. Personal relationships matter too; one rude staff member can ruin a relationship.

All that said, it may not be your fault. A donor’s situation or priorities may have changed. Financial constraints may cause someone to pull back on giving. A family member’s illness may cause medical philanthropy to leap to the top of their list and pre-empt your and other causes.

Even then, however, you can be gracious and keep in touch with donor. The goal is a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand. The tide may turn in your favor, in the future.

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