One of the eternal mysteries here at the Agitator is why so many fundraisers ignore the issue of donor retention in favor of obsessive focus on donor acquisition. They’re whistling past the graveyard of declining acquisition returns and rising costs.
Even back in 2012 when we launched the three-year study of donor behavior that led to the book Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life most fundraisers in the sector were aware that donors were hitting the exits in record numbers.
In that book, and in hundreds of Agitator posts over the next decade [see Archives>Retention] we’ve offered up researched and tested measures to help organizations hang on to their donors. Even back then we knew, in Kevin’s words, “Retention is the New Acquisition.”
One of our series of recommendations falls under our internal slogan: “Ask Less, Raise More” . We know there’s a solid basis for this recommendation. Dozens of organizations ranging from the Union of Concerned Scientists to Special Olympics have proven that asking less frequently results in greater net income and higher retention rates.
Yet the conventional dictum of “ask more, make more” prevails. Most folks just can’t get past the idea that “if I don’t send the February appeal, then I’ve lost those donations forever”. That of course is nonsense. Illogic based on the mistaken belief that donors give only when asked, not the reality that donors give when they want to give. (See People Don’t Give Because We Ask)
The “ask more, get more” dictum is perpetuated by beneficiaries of our trade. Virtually every agency we’ve spoken to claim they’ve never seen a case where fewer communications means more net revenue in the short or long term. (It may be coincidental but it’s worth noting that the most adamant responses came from those who were being paid by the piece or owned their own means of production.)
And so, I was pleased that Kevin in his recent post, When Less is More , reported on a year-long study by Facebook involving frequency notifications to its users. The result? While it took a long time for user behavior to shift, less disruption of their lives through frequent notifications led to high organic usage, which increased both user satisfaction use of the Facebook app.
Facebook isn’t alone. As we’ve reported before, the publishing world and e-commerce retailers are experiencing the same result: Fewer contacts, fewer ads, less spend and more attention paid to the offers and ads that remain.
Now if Facebook, with its 3.05 billion users can take the time to study the preferences and satisfaction of its donors, you’d think that a nonprofit with 100,000 or 50,000 donors would be just as concerned. Afterall, the nonprofits’ loss of a few thousand annoyed donors is far more costly than loss of a few thousand to Facebook.
Parenthetically, but importantly, smaller nonprofits are mostly safe from losing donors abused by the mail more/send more disease. Afterall, it’s difficult to piss off a donor if you’re only contacting one to four times a year.
What we’re waring against holds true whether in postal mail or digital email. Having just received 4 email appeals from the campaign of Senator Sherrod Brown in the last 3 hours, I recalled when people were in awe of email. They loved it. But today, given the mélange of clutter, mutter and hyperbole by the political parties, their candidates and consultants threatens to strangle donor trust and satisfaction across the entire spectrum of giving.
As we move into 2024 here at the Agitator we’re hoping fundraisers will truly take the time and run some long-term pilot project tests to make certain their organizations as donor attrition-proofed as possible.
Here are some earlier posts that provide some practical advice:
AND…please don’t forget: RETENTION IS THE NEW ACQUISITION.
Happy New Year!