Donor Stewardship to find diamonds

Photo courtesy of readerwalker on Flickr

A couple weeks ago, I was working with my son on a school project. We are having him study 10 great speeches from USA history. In looking at top 10 and top 100 lists, I was thrilled to come across Russell Conwell’s Acres of Diamonds.

I’d read this dozens of times growing up. The gist of the story is that a man dreamed of finding diamonds. So he sold all he had, including his property, and went off looking for them. But the person who purchased his land ended up finding an enormous wealth in diamonds in the land the first man sold. The moral of the story is that often the things we yearn for the most we’ll find if we dig in our own backyard.

That got me thinking about a conversation I had with a development director. She was bemoaning the exclusive focus her board had on “getting new donors.” Finding new donors consumed most of the committee and board meetings she participated in and was almost exclusively what her job effectiveness was based on. In exasperation, she blurted out:

“But at this point if we just got everyone who gave last year to give again this year, WE’D REACH GOAL!”

Diamonds in the database

Do you feel like this development director? She’s definitely on to something. Granted, all of us need to be interesting new donors in our cause. But did you know that currently on average 73% of new donors never make a second gift?

No amount of new donors could fill this. Ever. If we are going to succeed in funding our mission, we’re going to need to become donor retention experts.

Do you know what the good news is? Donors are people who’ve already done what you want them to do! Donors are people who’ve already made a gift! You’re not asking them to do anything new. You’re simply reminding them of how great their actions have been and asking them to repeat them again!

That’s much easier than “finding new donors.”

Unfortunately, it can seem boring too. Too many board members and CEO’s have a “been-there-done-that” mentality when it comes to donors. As though “getting a new donor” is like buying a t-shirt rather than planting a seedling. T-shirts need to be replaced; seedlings need to be nurtured. (Click here to tweet that.)

The problem with seedlings is that they aren’t predictable. And it can be tedious waiting for them to grow. But if they’re tended well, there will be a harvest.

Finding your diamonds

Like seedlings, diamonds are made in a process. They start out as coal. And even after they become diamonds, most of us don’t find them valuable until they’ve been cut and their new-found facets have been polished.

That’s what fundraising is all about! As fundraisers, we find people with some interest in our organization. Then we grow that relationship in a cycle of:

  • expressing gratitude,
  • inviting for deeper commitment, and
  • discovering new levels of connection.

You can’t afford to lose 73% of your donors

You can’t afford to lose 73% of your donors anymore than you can afford to lose 73% of your stock portfolio or 73% of your paycheck. But just like diamonds, donor retention doesn’t “just happen.” It takes effort.

Here are three ways to stop losing donations:

  1. Board members: ask for donor retention statistics

    Some software like Bloomerang make these easy to report. But not all systems make it easy. So be kind to your staff if they’re trying to figure this out. After all, this is probably the first time they’ve been asked by the board to report on retention. If it is, it may be appropriate to precede your request with an apology. Something like: “I’m sorry we’ve never asked for these statistics before…”

  2. CEO’s and Executive Directors: prioritize stewardship visits

    Rather than getting frustrated at seeing “the same names on a list,” choose to express your gratitude for those people. Get to know them more and discover ways you can help to get them more deeply invested in your nonprofit. Your asks may be of time, talent, or treasure. As long as they’re made from a place of gratitude for all the donor has already done. And don’t roll your eyes when your development director asks you to make thank you calls to donors.

  3. Development Directors: transform communication to coming from a place of gratitude

    Without the donor, your nonprofit couldn’t exist. Let them know you know that. Rather than brag about your nonprofit, use a tool like the We We Calculator to make sure you’re being donor-focused.

Donor retention is a team effort. But even if only one part of the team starts, you’ll be amazed by your acres of diamonds.

Learn more about donor retention in a new book from myself and 13 nonprofit experts by going to:

21 Ways for Board Members to Engage with their Nonprofit's Fundraising book image

You'll discover the 21 ways each board member can help their nonprofit's fundraising - even if they don't like to ask for money!

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