On May 2nd, Jay Love and Sandy Rees presented a webinar on donor relationships and donor retention. You can watch a replay here:


Sandy ReesSteven Shattuck: Good afternoon on the East coast and good morning for those on the West. Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar. ‘Everything You Need To Know About Creating & Retaining Donor Relationships’. My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the V.P., of Marketing over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s little discussion. And today I’m joined by the two leaders in the non-profit sector. The first, my new friend Sandy Reed. Hey there, Sandy.

Sandy: Hey.

Steven: Thanks for joining us. For those of you who don’t know, Sandy is a fund raising coach and a consultant who works with small non profit organizations helping them raise money, strengthen their boards, and build relationships with donors. She’s also a mentor and a coach to other non profit consultants who want to learn how to build their business using passive and leverage income. So it’s great to have you here, Sandy. I’m sure you’re going to share a lot of great stuff with us.

Sandy: Oh, I’m so glad to be here.

Steven: And also, yeah, also joining her is my colleague Jay Love. He’s the Founder and CEO over here at Bloomerang. Hey there Jay.

Jay: Hey, good morning and good afternoon to everybody.

Steven: Thanks for being here. Some of you probably recognize Jay, he’s a veteran of the non profit software industry having founded and sold E- Tapestry as well as serving as CEO of Master Software Corporation and CEO of Social Solutions. And as if his new venture Bloomerang wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he’s also currently a Senior Vice President at Avectra. So thanks for being here again Jay.

Jay: Looking forward to it.

Steven: Yeah, what we’re going to do today is we’ve got a two-part discussion. First, Sandy’s going to get us started and she’s got a short presentation about creating donor relationships and then she’s going to hand it off to Jay who’s going to talk about keeping those donors. So Sandy will sort of set us up and Jay will share some things about how to fight donor attrition and share some strategies on how to hang on to donors once you’ve gone through all that hard work of creating those relationships. And then as much time as we have left in the hour, we know people want to get back to their day, but if we do have some time we’ll do a Q & A session. So if you have any questions, or you hear something during the presentation that maybe you want clarified, go ahead and send those questions over via the chat functionality and I’ll field them to either Sandy or Jay. So without any further ado, Sandy why don’t you get us started?

Sandy: I’ll be happy to. Thanks so much and again welcome everybody, we’re so happy that you took time out of your day to join us. I know that you all are really busy and I want to make sure that we give you some great information that you can take back and use right away. We’re going to be talking about building relationships with donors and why that’s important. A lot of the information that I’m going to share is from a presentation that a client of mine and I did at the AFP conference in San Diego recently. And we talked about individual donors and why you want to focus on them.

And what you may know is that every year Giving USA does a study that shows us how much money is given in the United States, where it comes from, and where it goes. And what we know very consistently from that information is that about 75% of all the money that’s given comes from individuals. It’s just people. It’s not anything real fancy. It’s just people just like us. And I would encourage you to think about what does it look like for your organization in terms of where the money comes from and comparing individuals and businesses and corporations and things like that.

And if you can see the slide, you’ll see that I’ve got that pie chart for you. So we’re focusing on individual donors. One of the things that is scariest to me when you start thinking about building those relationships with individual donors is the retention rate. In other words, how many of them stay around? And how many of them go away? And if you look statistically we see that you can lose up to 35% of your donors every year. That means that if you’re not doing a great job of building relationships and keeping folks around and you start the year with 100 donors, you’re going to lose as many as 35 by the end of December. And that’s no good. We don’t want you losing that many. Because going out and trying to replace them can be difficult. It can be time consuming. And you know it’s actually easier to keep the ones that you’ve got instead of going out and always finding new ones.

And if I go back to my example of starting the year with 100 donors and you lose 35 that means you start the next year with 65 donors and if you don’t really do anything you’re going to lose 35 of those. In three years you have no donors left. You see the math is pretty simple a third one year, another third the second year, and gosh before you know it you’re down to nearly nothing. So you’ve got to be adding the equivalent of 35% of your donor base every year just to break even. Yeah, that’s a little overwhelming isn’t it. If you think about why donors leave, I think that’s an important place to spend just a little bit of time. I think there are basically three reasons why you lose donors every year.

One is some of them move away. So let’s say you’re in Haver, Montana or you’re in Skokee, Illinois, or you’re in Orlando, Florida and you have donors who move from that city to one that’s somewhere across the world. And they may choose not to support your organization anymore because they don’t physically live in the community. Now I know there are some donors who will continue to give regardless of where they move, but I think that a lot of people will stop giving because they move away. Sometimes people pass away and hopefully you’ve got some kind of planned giving program in place, but once they stop giving or they pass away then you’re not going to get annual gifts from them anymore.

I think if you look at all those people that are leaving the move away and the pass-aways are actually a real small percentage. I think most people go away and ultimately they leave because they believe that another organization deserves their money more than yours. I think ultimately that boils down to no relationship. When you have no relationship with donors, they’re going to go away. Relationships lead to all kinds of really cool things. When you have relationships with donors, you’re going to wind up with, not only money but, volunteers and other resources and other potential donors. People are going to bring a lot to the table when they feel connected with you.

One of my absolute favorite clients says, ‘That relationships need to be authentic, but not presumptuous.’ So when you’re building that relationship with somebody, you can’t assume that they’re going to give just because you’re spending the time to get to know them. And you can’t assume that they’re going to give big. Just focus on the relationship. Focus on getting to know that donor. Understanding what’s important to them. And just see if you can’t find a place where you can like them as a person. You’ve got to value that relationship over the gift. When you put more importance on the relationship than you do the money, that person is going to be around for a long time and support your organization.

Doesn’t that make sense? So when you’re looking for relationships think about this, there’s actually a couple of different things that are involved and things that it takes. One is shared passion. In the program that I teach, which is called: Get Fully Funded, we teach people how to find ideal donor prospects so that they’re are talking with and working with people who are really likely to be very excited about their organization and want to stick around for the long haul. You see you want to spend your time with people who are passionate about the work your organization does. People who are lukewarm can eat up a lot of time and yield very little. And I think, unfortunately, an awful lot of non profits have lukewarm donors.

You know I think about some of the organizations that I give to and how if some of them just spent a little bit more time engaging me and finding out what’s important to me, I could probably fire up some passion pretty quickly, but they spend a lot of time ignoring me and so I don’t get all excited and want to do a lot to help them with their organization.

The second piece of building that relationship is about an intentional investment. What that means is that you are very purposeful about spending time getting to know those donors and those people who are likely to be amazing supporters for your organization. I like to think about it this way, what if you knew that you had a donor already, right now today, you have a donor who is capable of making a game changing gift to your organization, but you didn’t know which donor it was, what would you do? Would you go out and intentionally spend some time to get to know lots of your donors? I bet you would. I bet you would be out there spending the time face-to-face getting to know them. Finding out what makes them tick. Finding out what sets their heart on fire so you can figure out who can make that game changing gift.

It’s all about the relationship folks. Donors that you have a relationship with and who love what your organization does are going to set you up for long-term sustainability. And that’s really what we’re interested in. I’ve been on a little bit of a rant lately about organizations that are so focused on the annual fund and so focused on raising dollars for this year that they become very short sighted. The dollars this year are important, but what’s even more important are the donors who are going to be around for years to come. That’s where you really want to put your focus. You see it’s not about you and it’s not about your organization. It’s about the people whose lives are being changed by the work your organization does. You’ve got to switch your thinking a little bit.

I think so often when we get busy and we get in a hurry, we start thinking about what does our organization need? We need to keep the lights on? We need to grow our program? We need to feed more kids? We need, we need, we need. And you know what? Your donors don’t care what you need. They care about those people whose lives are being changed. They care about those kids who are going hungry. They care about people who need what your program offers, but it’s not about your organization. So you’ve got to flip your thinking just a little bit.

In fact, I would encourage you to stop thinking about those folks as donors and think about them as friends. Now this is a little bit of re- frame and a subtle shift in thinking, but I think it’s really important because when you stop thinking about folks as donors and you start thinking about them as friends, you can probably think about them in a much broader way. A donor is going to give you money and they may or may not give again next year, but a friend is going to give you money and they’re also going to give you love and support and they’re going to care about your success and they’re going to be around for a long time.

You see the difference? So instead of focusing on that gift, instead of thinking about your donors only when you need to fund your budget, how about thinking about people as friends and think about the opportunities that are out there that those friends could bring to the table. I’m hoping that that’s making sense to you. I know when I first started digging into that concept that was a big shift for me in my thinking and you know what happens for me as a result, and I’m thinking back to the days when I was a Development Director at the Food Bank in Knoxville, when I stopped thinking about the gift and I started thinking about the donor and what they were getting out of the donor relationship, it really changed a lot of things and we started raising more money.

And I think because I started shifting everything that I was doing, the way that I would write a newsletter changed because it wasn’t about, ‘Look what’s going on with our organization.’ I started thinking about it from the donors point of view and thinking about what they were interested in. And I started writing in a way that helped them see how they fit in with our organization.

Now one of the things that I know is that a lot of times and especially if you haven’t been doing fund raising a long time or if you don’t feel like you really mastered it, it can feel a little icky to think about building a relationship and that is all mindset. Maybe you have these sorts of thoughts running around your head and it keeps you from going out and building relationships with donors. Maybe you think, oh well these people are going to see right through me. They’re going to know I’m just after their money. Or maybe you have it that you’re being manipulative when you build a relationship.

What I want to share with you and I’m sure that Jay is going to back me right up on this, is you’re not being manipulative as long as you’re coming from a place of authenticity inside yourself. When you are genuinely interested in connecting that donor with the mission of your organization and what you want to do is see that donor as a partner in your work, there’s nothing manipulative about that.

When you give somebody the chance to give, that’s all you’re doing is giving them a chance to give. You’re not twisting their arm. You’re not being manipulative. You’re not just after their money. You want them to feel really good about helping with the work your organization does. When I was at the Food Bank, there was so many people — and this just cracked me up — they would give a really big gift and then I would thank them and we would steward and build the relationship and I would tell them how much it meant to us that they were, that they trusted us and supported us. And over and over people would say to me, ‘No, thank you. Thank you for giving me the chance to help. Thank you for doing what you do.’ You know it was amazing to me that they would say, ‘No, no, you’re the ones doing the heavy lifting. You’re the ones doing the hard work. We appreciate you.’

I think that all came from that partnership and just letting people, letting people have that chance to help. So change the mindset. Focus on the fact that you are making friends for your organization. And the more friends you have the more people you can help. You’re simply giving folks the chance to partner in your work. Look at yourself as a connector. Look at yourself as a lynch pin. You’re simply connecting people out in the community who want to help and they want to change things. You’re connecting them with that opportunity to do it.

Here’s another way to think about it. My very first job in non-profit was at the local rescue mission. So we were helping homeless people and what I knew was that there were a lot of people in the community who would have loved to do hands on work with the homeless. Or they would love to come and work in the soup kitchen and provide those hot meals, but for whatever reason they didn’t have time or they couldn’t squeeze it in their schedule. So the way that they could help was to write a check. And that’s the way that they chose to help. Now we still connected with them. I talked to lots of people on the phone. I talked to lots of people in person. We connected with our website and with our print newsletter and so forth, but what I know is that a lot of people saw that, their contribution as a way for them to participate in the work that we were doing. I’m hoping that this is helpful for you.

Let me give you some ideas about how a relationship grows. It’s always starts with an introduction. Somebody’s introduced to your organization through another friend or maybe through a direct mail piece or maybe through social media or an event, but there’s always that introduction. Then you have the opportunity to grow the relationship. It usually happens in small steps and intentionally over time. Now I want you to think about this for just a second. Think about how relationships grow in your world and think about some of your friends and maybe your spouse. Or maybe someone that you spend a lot of time with, but relationships grow very organically and naturally over time and with attention and lots of support, and love, and nurturing right?

Well, you want to think about growing your donor relationships the same way. You don’t force it. You don’t push it. In fact, ladies, think about this, how many of you showed up on a first date in your wedding gown? Uh-huh, that’s what I thought, we just don’t do that. So don’t push the relationship. Don’t force it. Don’t show up to the first interaction with your donor with a pledge card in your hand. That’s not how you’re going to make friends for your organization. Give it time. Let it grow. Pay attention to people and take it in steps.

And the thing that I’m going to end with is some very practical steps that you can use to build that relationship with your donors on purpose. And that’s the only piece that tends to get in our way. We’re very comfortable with growing those relationships organically, but when we start talking about growing them on purpose, sometimes that can start to feel manipulative. Remember to stay in your, stay centered, stay in your spot of authenticity with your intention being connecting people to the work that your organization is doing. Then you can follow these steps.

Network. Always look for those introductions. One of the best tips that I can give you here is when you’re building relationships with your best donors ask them who else you need to be talking to. Who else do they know who might also care about what’s going on?

Get interested in people. You need to be genuinely interested. Learn all you can about them. Look for shared passions, common interests. You know, find those places where you can have conversations with folks that are substantial. You know those conversations where you can ask them about their family or about their world or something like that. One of my clients is an organization that uses hunting as a form of therapy and although I’m not a hunter, we laugh about that a lot and we have found a way to have some common ground there even though our interests are a bit different. And they’re teaching me a little about different kinds of hunting and things. It’s fascinating, but that’s the same kind of thing that you can do with donors.

Find areas that you can have things to talk about. Then you want to get to know them. What are their likes and dislikes? What are they interested in? What are they’re hobbies? What do they do for fun? Ask lots of questions. Here’s one of the rules that I use personally and I heard this a long time ago and I can’t remember from who, but we have two ears and one mouth, use them accordingly. What that means is, listen twice as much as you talk. You want to get really good at using open ended questions to get people talking about themselves and what they care about.

Communicate regularly with your new donors and your new friends. I mean think about that person that you know or that friend that you have that the only time that you hear from them, they want something. Yeah, we all know somebody like that, don’t be that way to your donors. Communicate with them in lots of different ways for lots of different reasons. Don’t show up only with your hand out asking for money. Communicate with them and keep the focus on them and not on you. It’s not about your organization it’s about the people’s whose lives are being changed and how your donors can play a part in that.

The magic key here is to build that relationship and then to keep that relationship, which isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do either. And I’m delighted to be able to share with you today the information that Jay has. Jay has some great stuff on some ways that you can implement to keep more of your donors and to make building those relationships easier. So Jay are you ready?

Jay: I am Sandy. Thank you so much.

Sandy: Jump right in.

Jay: Yeah, and we will build upon all of the information that you said there and talk about what technology can do to reverse the trend of falling donor retention and in improving relationships in total. And I’m going to share some stats here in just a minute that are slightly worse than what Sandy had there. Some of the retention levels were actually a little bit worse than what she was talking about there and mine’s based upon the study that’s been done the last five or six years by the Association of Fund Raising Professionals in the Urban Institute out of Washington, D.C.

And the donor retention rate there was 41%, which meant that the attrition rate was nearly 60% so you can see why a person can get themselves a little bit shocked there. Really what you’re seeing there is nearly 6/10 donors are leaving each year and that’s where this sort of scares a lot of people if they take the time to look at this. This is not often shared. When you look at starting with a 1,000 donors if the attrition rate is 60% verses the 35% that Sandy was talking about, so Sandy you’re working with some pretty phenomenal organizations because the industry averages this last year was actually 59% based upon data from their actual data bases to do that.

So you can see a 1,000 donors over five years dwindles down to just 10 with that being the case. So that is a scary situation, but it’s not one that we can, we can take steps to help rectify because in our work and working with the databases, we have seen organizations with an attrition rate of only 20% or 30%, but it’s only on a rare occasion that we find that being the case.

So when we talk about addressing the retention problem, I’m going to agree 100% with Sandy that it is all about the relationship. And as you see there with the question, is it a donor relationship problem? I’m going to say yes, I really think that’s the case. And when we talk about bringing technology in to it, I’m going to guess that most of you out there are using some sort of a donor database right now. And when we ask and we actually conducted this survey at the Association of Fund Raising Professionals conference in San Diego just a few weeks back, and we asked time and time again what percentage of the product that they have in their office are they actually using? And the answer that we got that the majority of them felt that they were using less than 20% of the functionality. So that part of it was quite scary to the people involved there.

We also found that because of the large amount of features and complexity, that the complexity was keeping the actual find raisers out. So the people that Sandy was referring to that are building those relationships, many times that information was not making it into the database. So let’s take a look here at perhaps some sort of revolution taking place. And when I talk about a revolution, we’re talking about coming from game changing ideas, having it be involved with strong and respected leaders, and having some execution come into play that can make that revolution happen for us.

So let’s take a look at what we’re talking about here. The big game changing idea, as it relates to technology, is having something that’s easy enough that no training is required and that anybody can use. And if you’re like most of the offices, we have the privilege of working with, the person running the database that’s usually just one or two individuals and all of the other individuals that are out there working and building the relationships on a day-to-day basis are really not having a chance to work with the database directly themselves. And so this game changing idea is to make it so easy that everybody can use it and build in best practices within the technology that you’re using so that you can focus on just the core functions that everybody’s using. The old Pareto principal of 80/20, focusing in on the 80% or 90% of the work that you’re doing time and time again and making that as easy as possible.

And the net result is that for the first time, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years, we’re seeing a situation where the fund raisers not only can use the database, but they’re embracing it and finding that it’s a tool to be able to help them build those relationships. And when you have everybody using the database, we think that really equals relationship building which therein equals fund raising success. So let me share a little bit about what I mean by ease of use and best practices and why this can come to life for you here for them.

The product that we represent is Bloomerang and it really is a next generation database for that. We’re enabling best practices and focusing in on donor retention and communication, but the third point that you see there, that extreme ease of use is really been one of the major game changers involved here. So that everybody can use the product and we don’t feel like it has to be somebody who goes for a week or two of training or it’s so complex that that individual is the only one that can use it on a day-to-day basis. And this is based upon a pretty strong pedigree as Sandy and Steve mentioned, most of our team has been involved with the Fund Master product and the E-Tapestry product and we feel like we’ve finally got something that’s easy enough for everyone to use. As you can see there, finally got it right.

And a key reason for being correct are the experts that are involved here for that. We have two very strong industry experts that are on our team, plus they work in the input from several of our partners like Sandy that tell us all the time different things that we should be adding to the product. But our two initial providers of information are Dr. Adrian Sargent, our chief scientist who is sort of the father of donor retention. Many of you have probably read some of his books and papers for that. And then on the communications side we work very closely with Mr. Tom Ahern and some of you may be familiar with his publications and his newsletter and he is our donor communications head coach. All of their best practices have been built into the product so that they come to life for you with the day- to-day usage of the product for that.

And Dr. Sargent was the one that actually quoted that a 10% improvement in retention can double the lifetime value of your donor database. And what we’re talking about is making those incremental changes so that if your retention is 60% like Sandy was referring to, if we can move that to 65% or 70%, the overall value of those people staying with you year-after-year can double the amount of dollars that they’re providing to your organization, to your mission over their lifetime for that. So that is a very exciting result that can come from building these practices.

So let me share with you a couple of screen shots and not only is this something you can do with the Bloomerang product, but these are the types of data that I think would be important to get out of any fund raising system that you’re using. Even if you’re managing with spreadsheets or something of that nature, you can do that. And this is the dashboard that comes up and as you can see here on the upper left-hand corner, what we’re looking at is the donor retention rate and that’s the retention rate for exactly going back 365 days for the last year. And for this particular organization they’ve retained 45% of their donors from one year to the next. So as Sandy alluded to, if you started with 100 people that made donations the previous year, 45 of them continued to contribute again in the following year and continued that expression of interest and passion for your organization.

So as we move forward and take a look at some of the other areas, one of the key things when you’re looking at an individual record that we think is very important in this relationship building area, is this engagement level. And this engagement level that we’re pointing to here on the screen, we can see that Rob, one of the members of our team is actually on fire, but there are four different levels of engagement. And they move from cold to cool to warm to hot to on fire. And those engagement levels are moved by your building of the relationship with the individual, but what’s neat about the Bloomerang product is most of these items are being done automatically behind the scenes so you can determine – I always tell people one of the first things that they can start doing when they’re working with our database product is, they can come in on Monday morning and they can have a report waiting for them, telling them these are all the individuals in my database that their engagement levels either moved up or down one degree or two, over the past week or the past few weeks. And that gives you an idea of where to take action.

Because think about it, if you found out that your retention rate is only in the 40s or 50s, if you could find those people that have been donors and their engagement level has fallen, they might be the ones that you want to reach out to with a telephone call, with a personal visit, with a personalized email or something of that nature. So let’s walk through these engagement factors and what is determining those.

First and foremost the first two or three that you see there have to do with their giving. So they’re recent-cy and pattern of giving. Whether or not they are giving out right via checks or cash or whether they’re a sustaining donor with some sort of recurring transaction, or whether they’re doing a long-term pledge. The number of years that they’ve had with your organization. Obviously people are much more engaged when they get to the second, third, fourth, and fifth year. If they’re upgrading or downgrading. Obviously if they lapse that drops the engagement quite a bit down.

And then we take a look at some other factors here. Do they attend events? Do they bring other people with them to the event? It’s tracking that, if they’re registering for the event via your website, all of that information is flowing through the database and moving that engagement meter for you automatically. Or if you’re just marking that they’re engaging and attending the event as you enter the information for the event attendance that automatically moves their engagement needle for them. If you’re sending out emails, anybody that opens your email or clicks on a link in an email or forwards it to other people, or unsubscribes, those all move the engagement factors back and forth also. If they’ve had inbound interactions with you we always know that if someone initiates the interaction, if they sent you an email, if they picked up the phone and called you or if they paid a visit to your facility, it can make all the difference in the world.

We’re big believers in stewardship and that’s what we’re talking about here with the soft credits. That you can see for people that have brought in matching gifts from their companies or have brought people to be stewards for you or if they’ve got sponsors for participating in your events, those all count quite nicely as well as volunteering and their social media. If they are working with you and they’ve liked you on Facebook or they’ve engaged with you on LinkedIn and they say something about you, those factors all come in to move this engagement needle that we’re referring to so that you have a good strong idea of those individuals that are engaged with your organization and just why they are.

We show this engagement over time with what we call a timeline here. And in this particular situation we can see on the left-hand side every touch point we’ve had with a particular individual. And over on the right- hand side in those manilla[sounds like 34:10] boxes are the highlights. We’re showing you what were the biggest factors that it moved that engagement needle each year with that person. So referring aback to what Sandy was talking about, if you’re getting to have a telephone call with somebody or a meeting with them just think how powerful it would be to bring up on your screen and to have this timeline at your fingertips and to have the engagement level already marked for you. So you can see what our relationship has been and where I might want to go, but more importantly if all of the fundraisers are using the system, each one of these touch points, if you click on them, will have the entire essence of the conversation with you.

And I always try to relate a story here, my Alma Mater is one of the better known universities in the mid-west and after the sale of one of my companies, I guess I became a major donor prospect for them. And they asked my wife and I to lunch and we had literally a two-hour lunch meeting with this major gift officer from this university and sort of shared all of our background, how my wife and I met each other at the university, how we were sort of sad that our three children did not go forward there. And over that course of two hours we really shared a wealth of information that I think would be a good, strong foundation for building a relationship with us.

Well, that individual unfortunately left and took a job with another institution and I was contacted about nine months later by another major gift officer and asked to lunch. And some of you may already be thinking ahead, the essence of the story, but literally no more than 15 minutes into the lunch, we were being asked the same questions. And I sort of stood up abruptly and I said, first of all I asked the person, do you know what I do for a living with donor databases? And this person said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a little bit of background.’ I said, ‘Well, everything you’re asking me I have already shared with somebody, literally nine months before and I’m wondering why that information wasn’t shared with you? And it was because the database was not being used by the fund raisers themselves. In fact, they were scared to try to put information in. So, we’ve since gone on to build that relationship very, very strong so if anybody out there is aware of who my Alma Mater is, I’m a very strong supporter, my wife and I of them, but it got off to a bit of a rocky start.

Now Tom, with his communication best practices, I love the quote here, ‘Successful direct mail appeals are quite simple. At heart they are love letters to donors and prospects woven through with clear cries for help.’ And we have taken many of Tom’s suggestions and we have built that into our database also. So that as you’re working with mailings, you can see here, we have some of his best practices that you’ll see coming about in the product there and a couple of the areas that we think are very important is first of all, verifying what grade level the letter is written at or the thank you. And believe it or not the lower the grade level the higher the results for any sort of solicitation or appeal letter that’s going out there.

We also think, and this is going to tie in directly with what Sandy said, if you go through the letter and you take a look at how many times certain key words like, we or I or us or you are used there you can determine whether the letter is focused on the donor or is focused back on our organization. Are we bragging about what our organization is doing and we’re not seeing it through the eyes of the donor? And Tom and Sandy are totally in sync on this, that if we can make this happen, then you will have that information permeating through all of your communications and it makes such a big difference.

So I’m going to end here with talking about these key areas that you see on the screen. We really want you to strive for donor satisfaction and donor commitment and engagement, which lead to donor trust and donor loyalty. And I always ask people if you can close your eyes for a second, I know we’re on a webinar where that doesn’t make a lot of sense versus a face-to-face seminar, but if you close your eyes for a second and just think for a moment about what I say at the bottom of the screen there. What would it mean if you could double the lifetime value of that entire donor database as it sits at your office right now? All of the individuals that are supporting your organization, if you could literally double that so that the value that you have right now is twice that value five or ten years down the road. I think you could make a significant impact on the mission that you’re trying to accomplish and have a heck of a lot of fun along the way making that happen.

So those are the key points I wanted to share there. Steven it looks like we’ve got nearly 20 minutes left for questions.

Steven: Yeah.

Jay: Have we had any questions come in so far . . .

Steven: Yeah. I’ve been following along, we’ve got some really interesting questions coming in just as you and Sandy were talking. Yeah, we can dive right in, we probably have 15 or 20 minutes before the hour’s over. I’m sure people want to head off to lunch if they’re over on the west coast, so we won’t keep you people too long. We had a question, maybe Sandy this would be best for you to answer, it’s from Joan and she’s looking to get some buy-in from her board, she asks, ‘What key words or statements would you use for a board that doesn’t even want to send a newsletters to donors once or twice a year?’ So it looks like she’s trying to get buy-in to send some more communication to her board. What advice would you have for Joan on that front?

Sandy: Well, that’s a very common issue. There are so many boards out there that have people on them that tend to be a little nervous about over communicating. Or maybe they’re being too cautious about spending money and they don’t want to send a newsletter out. But here’s the thing, I always start with the board with what is it that you really want for this organization? Do you really want to feed more people? Do you really want to help more kids? Do you really want to put more people in homes? You know, based on the mission, what is it that you really want? And then you can share some of the slides and statistics that we’ve shown that can help you realize that if you don’t get out there and build relationships with people, if you don’t communicate with them, you are never going to raise the kind of money that it’s going to take to change the world and do the kind of stuff that you’re mission calls for.

Steven: Yeah, it seems like that lack of communication is really one of the factors that leads to the donor attrition of high rates that Jay talked about. So maybe even that is something that you can take to your board and say, ‘Hey these are the average donor attrition rates, these are our attrition rates, we have to communicate these to people more or we’re going to lose them.’ Yeah, so that’s really interesting.

Jay: May I comment about that too?

Steven: Please.

Jay: Sandy and I share a little bit of a background, I have been on the board of the Central Indiana Food Bank, Gleaners [sounds like 41:08] the name of the food bank, for many, many years.

Sandy: Yeah.

Jay: For three or four terms now and I’ll never forget we used a direct mail vendor that was coming in and sharing their results. And last year at the meeting I raised my hand and I said, ‘You’re talking about all these wonderful things that we’re doing with our direct mail program, is it okay if I ask for you to share with the board what our retention rate is from one year to the next for those people who have responded to us via direct mail?’ And the presenter from the direct mail agency literally dropped the slide projector thing that he was working on and walked around to the executive director and asked if it was okay for him to share the results. And he came back and he shared that it was only, they were only retaining about 40%. And I said, ‘Okay, may I ask another question?’ I raised my hand and he went ‘Oh yeah, it’s you again’. And I said, ‘Would you mind sharing us, telling the entire board what the retention rate is for people who just gave for the first time last year?’ He literally walked around the, whispered in the executive director’s ear and said, ‘Do you want me to say what that is?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, please do.’ And he walked back up to the front of the room and he said, ‘Well, our retention rate for the first year donors was only 20%.

Sandy: Oh my gosh.

Jay: And believe it or not that was the entire discussion of the board. We disbanded with listening to any of the other reports that were going on. And I thought it was really good because for one of the first times that year we really had a strategic discussion of why that was happening. And it made all the difference in the world. Not to hijack this question Steven, but I had to answer that because you know, boards can be hard to communicate with and to get buy-in unless you can get such a strategic discussion going.

Steven: And since we’re talking about donor attrition already there was a question that came in asking if we could go a little bit deeper into those causes of attrition. And I know Sandy you mentioned things like people moving away and sometimes people passing away and really just boiling it down to maybe not communicating and their mission not being very clear. Jay I’m wondering if maybe you can dive into that attrition question and tell us the things that you’re seeing in terms of why those rates are so high and what’s really causing that.

Jay: Well there’s a multitude of factors, but in my talks with Dr. Sargent and then with people like Sandy who I have great respect for who have been on the front lines for so many years doing it, the number one reason that a lot of people do not give the next year is that they were never communicated with personally. And they were not communicated with and they were not told specifically what their funds were being used for. And even if someone’s giving to your general fund, which we love those donors, we can let them know what the donations to the general fund are being used for and putting it in terms that they can understand for that. I think that was, really hit home to me that people were not being treated in that manner to do that.

I always harken back to an experiment I did with all of my employees at E-Tapestry, I wanted to make sure that they had a good view point of the market place. So I would give each brand new employee $50 and I would say please go make either ten $5.00 gifts or five $10.00 gifts to various organizations. And I asked them to mix it up, pick a few local and pick a few national organizations and tell me at the end of 90 days who has built a relationship with you and who did nothing more than a basic thank you to you. And what is surprising is to this day some of those people are still supporting those organizations five years later, ten years later. Sandy what would you like to add to that? Sandy, anything?

Sandy: It reminds me of some of the experiments I’ve seen other people do and I did it myself. When we first moved to the community where we live, I sent out about five different gifts to organizations in the community just to see what they were doing. And it wasn’t anything big, it was a $25 gift, three of them never responded, not a thank you, nothing. Three out of five no thank you, no nothing. One of them the next time I heard from them they were asking me for money again. One of them did an okay job with the thank you and one of them did a great job not only with the thank you, but sending me more information and reaching out to me personally and such. And I think that’s what makes or breaks it for so many people.

You know if you think about, donors are just people and people want to feel important. They want to know that other people care. So that’s all you have to do is just let your donors know that you care. That you appreciate what they’re doing and that you’re so happy to have them in your corner. That’s all they need. That’s all they need. This is not complicated at all.

Steven: Yeah, while we’re talking about that, Sandy, the one thing that stood out in your presentation to me was differentiating between just plain donors and actually having friends of the organization. I thought that was really powerful and that sounds like that struck a nerve with some of the listeners as well. And Marjorie from Brooklyn was wondering, ‘How do you communicate that concept, if at all, to the actual donor themselves?’ She’s worried about maybe confusing them between whether they’re actually a personal friend or an actual friend of the organization or maybe a friend of the actual fund raiser at the non profit. How do you sort of communicate that if you do at all?

Sandy: You know, I tend to look at it more as an inside term. You know, just as we think about donors and major donors, we’re not going to go out and tell somebody, ‘Oh congratulations, you are now a major donor. You have crossed that $1,000 threshold.’ We don’t do that kind of thing, it’s more of an internal concept. It’s more of how we think about it and how we work internally. That would be, I just think it’s an internal thing, although you can say in a newsletter or thank you letter or something, ‘Thank you for being such a strong friend of our organization.’ Or ‘Because of you and other people who are partners in our work, we’re able to do blah, blah, blah’. I think there are some ways that you can use those words, I don’t think I would, I think I would use it internally more than anything.

Steven: Okay.

Jay: If I may add to that too Sandy and Steve, one of the items that Adrian shared with me that I thought was phenomenal and it’s so easy to do is if you can figure out what your average gift is in any year in your database, if a new donor comes in that’s equal to or above your average gift, is pull the plug on sending that thank you letter and pick up the phone and call and try to arrange a meeting for that person right away as part of that rather than sending that letter to them.

I just have to share another scary notion about that, over the years we’ve set up a lot of databases. There’s probably 15,000 or more of the E- Tapestry customers that are out there that we work with and one of the things that rang home with me is I went back to visit one of my early customers. And it was seven years after we’d implemented them and I had been involved personally in that implementation and I asked them to show me a couple of things on the machine. They had not changed the thank you letter that was going out for new donors in seven years.

It was still the same words going out for that because it was in the hands of the data entry person rather than the fund raisers. And of course, that data entry person, she or he had achieved his job by just making sure it had gone out within 48 hours or within 72 hours and no one had ever even taken a look and made a change in that over that time. So, you know, you got to wonder how much of a personal relationship they were going to build. I know you can only go so far with the smaller end donors to do that, but I always thought that Adrian’s bit of advice that if it’s above the average gift, make an effort to get to know that person right away.

Sandy: That’s really important.

Steven: Yeah, I’ve got another buy-in question here. This is from Kimberly and she’s asking, ‘How would you suggest that a development officer explain to her board that relationships take time?’ She’s saying that she always gets go find another grant push back from the board rather than work on those relationships. And Kimberly I can definitely empathize with that. My wife works for a small non profit and she has the same issues. She is always chasing down these grants rather than maybe spending more time on these relationships like Sandy talks about. So Sandy what advice would you have for Kimberly for getting that buy-in?

Sandy: Well, I think there’s a couple of pieces to that question. One is about it taking some time. I know of so many small organizations that they hire an executive director and they say ‘Go out and raise money and raise your salary and oh by the way do it by the end of next week’. They don’t understand that these things take time. I would suggest that if you have a lot of business people on your board, what you can do is talk to them about how long it takes to develop a loyal customer. You know, put it in terms that they will understand and that can be helpful. If you don’t have a lot of business people on your board, you’re going to have to help them understand that a donor relationship is similar to a best friend in their world and how that doesn’t happen over night.

And I think again I would go back to sharing some of the statistics that we’ve had in the slides about the greatest potential for fund raising for your organization is probably individuals. And that if you’re not doing something to retain your current donors, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot big time. Share some of the stuff that we’ve put in the slides here, go back and help them understand that number one, you need to be focusing on individuals and number two, it’s all about the relationship. And it will take a little time, but at the same time what you can do is maybe work with them to establish some milestones or some goals that you’re going to try and hit. Maybe you want to set a goal of having a number of relationships in process by the end of 60 days or 90 days. Get creative with it. Think about what you can negotiate with your board and what you can get them excited and on board with.

Steven: Great. Jay maybe you can answer this, you’ve worked with a lot of non profits, probably thousands of non profits in your career, Janice is wondering, ‘How do you build relationships with donors when you’re a tiny shop?’ So this is a real small non profit. Janice is feeling like she has to do everything herself. She’s doing the events, the appeals, communications, data entry. Sounds like she’s doing it all. What advice would you have for her on building relationships when she’s so overwhelmed with all the other tasks that are needed to run the non profit?

Jay: Well, the first thing I would say is personalize everything that you can do for that. So obviously a single person operation and you’re only going to be able to touch so many people, but that means every phone call that you make, every email that you send out, every letter that you have, there’s no reason why that cannot be personalized in some manner for that. And then obviously maximizing your time and figuring out where the best use of your time can be. And I think Sandy had some real good advice, if you start with your current larger donors or large supporters or loyal supporters and let them introduce you to people and make sure that you’re face-to-face with people that are already making a difference. Because if you’re involving the existing donor and a friend of theirs or a relationship there, you’re helping cement the existing donor and making sure that retention stays, plus bringing in a new person into the fold to do that.

Now obviously I can’t answer the question, Steve, without mentioning technology a little bit, but I’m a big believer that technology can help you figure out who are the most likely people to be doing that with. Whether it’s the engagement meter like we do with Bloomerang or whether you have some other way to do that, but bear in mind, as your organization grows, and I’ve seen some organizations that have been literally changed overnight by the bequest and legacy gifts where people leave something in their will. And that will often come from somebody who has just been a loyal donor over the years. Not necessarily a major donor, that they determined that a portion or all of their estate is going to make a difference with your organization. And that can make such a huge difference, but you will have to let the board know that does take some time to build to that level, but once those start becoming fruitful it’s a game changer and a difference maker in delivering your mission.

Steven: Great. Yeah, and speaking of our technology Jay, we had an anonymous question come in asking about the cost of Bloomerang and if you’re still listening there check out our website it’s: bloomerang.co we’ve got the pricing right there on the home page.

Jay: I’d say yeah we can make it available there or we would be glad to follow up with you afterwards. Any other questions from the group Steven that we want to take before we wrap up here?

Steven: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of questions, really good ones, maybe we can answer some of these off line, but about five minutes left, maybe we’ll do just one more. One that I thought was kind of interesting, maybe Sandy you can speak to this, this is from Roxanne and she’s part of a non profit that’s just getting started. So it’s a start-up non profit, brand new and she’s wondering about how they can build their foundation for relationships and donor partners, all the things that you’ve been talking about. So Sandy what advice would have to a brand new non profit organization to do all these things?

Sandy: I think it’s very cool if you’re organization is just getting started because you can do it right from the beginning. You don’t have to go back and fix any body else’s mess or clean up after anybody. You can just get it right from the get-go. The gentleman, the client that I was talking about earlier, they are a very young organization, only about five years old and this has been his approach the whole time. He clearly wants to raise money for his organization, but his approach to everything is to be interested in the person first and the gift second.

He’s always interested in building a relationship and his thinking is because you never know what somebody can bring to the table. Yeah, it might be a gift, but it might be an introduction. It might be another resource. It might be something that’s so amazing that you would never want to turn it down or offend that person. So he just approaches everybody as if they have this potential to do something amazing for his organization. It’s all about the relationship first and then the gift. I think when you’re just getting started, that’s the way you want to go after it. Talk to everybody you can. Get lots of introductions. Get out there and network and be genuinely interested in people.

Steven: Great. Great advice. Well, man this has been a great discussion. I feel like the three of us could probably talk about this all day, but we probably shouldn’t, we should be respectful of people’s time. We’ve just got a couple minutes, many people have been asking if the slides will be available. The answer is yes. I’ll be sending the slides out to everyone who registered later this afternoon. So you all will receive those here in a little bit. Just in the couple minutes Sandy, how can people get a hold of you, learn more about you, what do you have for people? I assume you have a website, I know you do.

Sandy: Oh yes, you can come find me for those of you who don’t know at: getfullyfunded.com and at Get Fully Funded you’re going to find all kinds of resources and information, I have books and products, all kinds of things to help you raise not only all the money you need for this year, but to completely, fully fund your mission going forward. That’s what Get Fully Funded is all about.

Steven: Yeah, that is great and Jay how about you? How can people learn more about Bloomerang?

Jay: Well, of course, the website address that you mentioned a little earlier: bloomerang.co you can do that. Obviously you’ve got Sandy and my email on the screen too. And if you got a follow on question or want direction information, feel free to email me directly or Sandy directly for that and we’ll be glad to do that. Obviously when the third thing too when Steven follows up with you and gives you the links to the slides and you’ve got those available to you, feel free to ask Steve any follow on questions or ask for further information, we’ll be glad to provide that. But I just want to say how much of a pleasure it has been working with Sandy on this. For those of you that get a chance to talk and work with her, she was just an absolute professional in getting all this put together and help organizing everything for us. She did most of the heavy lifting there so I have to give a big round of thank you to Sandy for all the work on it.

Sandy: Thank you. Your welcome. I’m happy to do it.

Steven: Well, thanks to both of you. I know Jay you’re out in Vegas and Sandy you’re in Tennessee so hope you both enjoy the rest of your day and to everyone who listened thanks for joining us and thanks for taking an hour out of your day. You’ll hear from me shortly, I’ll be sending a recording of the webinar as well as the slides. So thanks again, have a great rest of your day. Bye guys.

Jay: Bye-bye.

Sandy: Bye everybody.

Major gift fundraising

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.