Elaine Fogel


How Far Would You Go to Get Donors to Give More?

donors-oxytocinOK, fundraisers and nonprofit folk… how far would you go to get your donors to give more? Would you consider using modern marketing techniques that many retailers use?

What if you had the option of using Aroma, Touch and Words to stimulate giving? Curious?

According to a recent article in The Nonprofit Times, Russell James, III, Ph.D., a professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, tested the effects of aroma, touch, and specific words on charitable giving. His findings are surely fascinating.  Continue reading

Why Nonprofits Continue to Struggle with Donor Retention

Woman Chasing Money With a Butterfly NetDonor retention numbers are poor. Between 2011 and 2012, nonprofits lost 105 donors per 100 new and recovered ones. (“Donor Retention: How to Keep Donors Coming Back After the First Gift“)

Not encouraging at all, is it?

And, for small nonprofits, the picture is worse. “Organizations raising more than $500,000 had a 16.6% overall positive rate of growth, while those raising $100,000 to $500,000 had a net loss of -5.1%. Organizations raising less than $100,000 showed a net loss of -13.5%.” (Nonprofit Quarterly)

Many expert speculations abound. Adrian Sargeant, the Robert F. Hartsook Chair in Fundraising at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, says that donors often cite the following reasons they no longer donate to a particular cause:

  • No longer able to afford support
  • No memory of ever supporting (more frequent than you might imagine!)
  • Still supporting in some other way
  • Thinking that the cause no longer needs their support
  • Relocation
  • Not reminded to give again
  • Nonprofit did not inform donor how donations were used
  • Nonprofit’s communications were inappropriate
  • Nonprofit asked for inappropriate sums

Other than the reasons in purple, the rest are all ‘fixable.’ And, what’s more, they are part of an overarching mindset that many nonprofits fail to tackle - making the brand experience amazing!

And, what does that mean?

  • The organization needs to weave a customer orientation into every transaction and behavior. Every single employee and volunteer should receive ongoing training and evaluation on living the brand and putting nonprofit customers first. And, that includes employees, too. They are internal customers. It needs to be part of the organizational culture.
  • The organization needs to engage its donors a lot more. Find out more about them. Not, as an aggregate, as individuals as much as possible given the size of the database. What can your organization do for them? The first step to accomplish this is to follow your donors back in social media! Do you know how many nonprofits aren’t following and listening to their supporters? Reach out and help, especially when it has nothing to do with your mission. There’s a proven psychology about reciprocity.

“The rule of reciprocity is a type of social norm that can have a powerful influence on our behavior… This rule operates on a simple principle: We tend to feel obligated to return favors after people do favors for us… In many cases, the rule of reciprocity is actually a good thing. It helps us behave in socially acceptable ways and allows us to engage in social give-and-take with the people around us.” (What is the Rule of Reciprocity?)

  • Be human. Use your nonprofit’s brand personality and be real with donors.
  • Invest in the most important things that retain donors: marketing, branding, and customer orientation. Quit firing and rehiring fundraisers because they couldn’t deliver. The responsibility begins with senior management and the board.

What I fail to understand is why so many nonprofits see these solutions as a luxury instead of a necessity?

Why is there so much resistance? Got any theories?

Do You Make Your Donors Feel Special?

Guest post by Jeffrey Mendola

Man and woman shaking hands

Fundraisers love their donors.  We send them tax letters, fill their mailboxes with information we really want to share with them and then, we ask them to give again.

But, how do we know if we’re managing our donor relationships correctly? Most of us have excellent ways to steward our major donors.  Yet, it’s the smaller donors and, most importantly, our first-time donors that have the potential to help our organizations IF we can hang on to them.

According to best-selling author and nonprofit philanthropy expert, Gail Perry, less than a third of first-time donors will give a second gift and, only one in five will go on to make three gifts or more. What are we doing wrong?

Fundraising expert, Penelope Burk, suggests that at least 70% of donor attrition could be due to the way we say thank you and communicate with our donors.  Is it easier to keep a current donor or identify, educate, cultivate, solicit and obtain a gift from a new one?

Time for a confession.  When I worked for Mercy Flight, I used to send our IRS-compliant thank-you letter to all small-gift donors.  If the donation was over $250, I would augment the letter with a signed note from the CEO. For gifts over $500, I would include a color photo of one of our medical helicopters. It was all about the money, right?

Then I had an epiphany.  What’s more important: a single $500 gift or $100 a year for 10 years plus a bequest (willed donation)?  It certainly has to be easier to steward a $100 donor than to acquire a new $500 donor every year.

So, we created a grid that defines how we’ll make each segment of our donor population feel “special.”

Here are some ideas:

First-time donors receive a handwritten note – regardless of the amount – and a welcome “packet” or success story postcard a few weeks later.  Perhaps you can ask your volunteers to call and welcome them.

In the thank-you letter for second-year donors, say thanks for supporting you again this year.  If they’ve increased their donation, why not thank them for giving a “little extra” and indicate how it will help the mission.

Milestone donors receive a phone call from a board member or CEO inviting them for a special site visit dedicated to 5/10/15-year donors.  This needn’t be costly. Offer them coffee, tea, and homemade or purchased desserts as if you were having friends visit.

Of course, you can customize these ideas to fit your organization’s needs. Work collaboratively with your team to develop your own donor recognition strategy.

You will still want to lavish your major-gift donors with gratitude, engraved bricks, and phone calls from the CEO, but it’s equally as important to make all your donors feel “special” – no matter the size of their gifts.


Jeff Mendola


Jeffrey Mendola is the Director of Mission Advancement for New Directions Youth and Family Services. Jeff was recently recognized as a Rising Star in FundRaising Success’ 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. He is a board member and co-chair of the professional advancement committee for the WNY chapter of AFP.

To receive a copy of Jeff’s matrix, e-mail him at: [email protected]

Do the Images You Use Align with Your Brand?

Most small businesses and nonprofits use images to capture their target markets’ attention. Nothing tells a story better than a good quality image, right?

But, what if those images don’t align with your organization’s brand? What then?

Here’s a good example of what I mean:
I received a fundraising solicitation from the American Heart Association recently, and with the direct mail piece came a set of address labels.

(Just an aside: If I Get Another Set of Address Labels I’m Going to Scream!)

AHA dogsThere’s nothing unusual about this except the images don’t quite match the organization’s brand image. If I hadn’t checked the envelope and letter, I would have thought the donation request came from a humane society or other animal rights group.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The American Heart Association is an excellent organization - one the national biggies and worthy of our support. But dogs?

Maybe the fundraisers thought that dogs are so popular that donors would use the labels more. Or, maybe they’ve done some research that proves me wrong. Maybe the organization has a better response rate when they use dog photos in its direct mail.

My professional opinion would suggest that all images used in marketing be connected to the brand’s image and mission. Most people scan marketing collateral so if you don’t grab their attention immediately, they’ll hit the ‘delete’ button or toss the mail.

Did I just contradict myself and make the case for using dog images to capture attention - or not? 🙂 What do you think? 

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