The very sad story of the abysmal retention rates in so many unfortunate nonprofit organizations is old news. Bad news. Yet, we don’t fix it. Why? Why don’t nonprofits fix it?
Sure, I know. Your boss won’t listen to your expertise as you strive to follow the body of knowledge and research. Your board chair – that really powerful guy – thinks he knows best.
Ironic, isn’t it? The for-profit sector figured out loyalty decades ago. Just ask any businessperson. She’ll tell you that her job is on the line if customers don’t stick around.
But not in the nonprofit sector. Fundraisers keep their jobs despite lousy retention rates. Great fundraisers finally leave after fighting the asinine bosses and board members.
Also, there’s this little (or big) edge of entitlement that too often cuts through nonprofits. “We do such important work, we deserve money. We must focus on our good work, so you all out there should just give us money.”
And still, retention rates decrease. The battle cry for loyalty seems strong … and then fades in the timid offices of the organization.
By the way, your donors may be leaving you – but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped supporting good causes – even the cause you espouse. Always remember, donors give through your organization to fulfill their own aspirations, live out their own interests and values. Donors stop giving through you because of reasons you can – in all likelihood – control. Donors leave you and give through another organization.
So what are you doing about this situation?
I hope you’re fighting your boss and board. And if you can’t bring them along, then find another job. You deserve a job where you are respected, listened to, and allowed to perform well.
If you’re smart, you’re reading all the research. You’re following The Agitator and the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and Adrian Sargeant and Bloomerang and Tom Ahern and all the people pleading, ranting, and exhorting a focus on donor loyalty and lifetime value.
And there’s just as much pleading, ranting, and exhorting going on about how to build loyalty. For example, I recite – over and over and over: Build loyalty by nurturing relationships. Nurture relationships by operating as a donor-centered organization – and – launching a comprehensive relationship-building program. And that relationship-building program includes donor-centered communications and extraordinary experiences.
So let’s focus on that donor-centered part. What does it mean? How can your organization evaluate its Donor Centric Quotient?
Check out the Donor Centric Pledge (affectionately known as the DCP) and test your Donor Centric Quotient (known as the DCQ). Strong performance of the DCP increases your DCQ – which, in turn, increases your donor retention rates (shall we call those the DRR?)
Here’s what readers of my web column at the Nonprofit Quarterly said about the DCP:
- “These are all good for convo[conversation]. Maybe something I’d bring to a clients’ meeting for discussion.”
- “Your Donor Centric Pledge should be a manifesto for fundraisers, NGOs, consultants, boards.”
- “Can someone make this into a poster? I would hang it up all over the office.”
Here’s how I recommend that you use the DCP:
1. Use it to stimulate conversation throughout your organization.
Conversation is considered a core business practice because that’s how people learn and change.
- Engage the development committee in a conversation – and the full board, too. Just get their minds going, build a bit of understanding. Remember, board members don’t have to understand all these standards. But they do have to understand that there are standards.
- And definitely talk with the full staff – by department, together, whatever works for you – about the concept of donor centrism. The entire agency has to be donor-centered, just like an entire business has to be customer-centered. And operating in a donor-centered manner works just fine with operating in a client-centered and mission-centered manner.
2. Use the DCP as a tool for evaluation and planning.
- First, talk with the development staff about the meaning of the standards. Evaluate your organization’s performance compared to the standards and decide what has to change as you plan for the future.
- Consider the following questions:
- Do you understand the standard and why it matters? Can you sell it to others?
- How does your current performance compare to each standard?
- Where do you excel and why?
- What requires improvement and how will you make those improvements, e.g., what skills do you need and what resources?
- As you plan any fundraising activity, compare it to the DCP standards. Decide how the fundraising activity supports, reaffirms, and advances your donor-centered operation.
3. And finally: You can adopt the DCP as a development office policy or protocol.
I also suggest that you adopt the Donor Bill of Rights and the AFP Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Practice as policy. In fact, you could have the institution adopt the DCP, Bill of Rights, and AFP Code and Standards as institutional policy.
The very sad story of abysmal donor retention rates gets worse and worse. It’s pretty darn easy to fix, easier than acquiring new donors. And keeping your donors is less expensive than trying to acquire new donors.
Enough with the pleading, ranting, and exhorting. Let’s do it.
I’ll close with this great statement from Roger Craver in the October 28, 2013 issue of The Agitator: “When will fundraisers, CEOs and Boards wake up to the fact that the tragedy of donor flight is largely self-inflicted?”