"We Need More Donors" - Common Advice I Give When Organizations Ask for Help

advice fundraising more donors Aug 17, 2021

"We just need more donors..."

Of the hundreds of organizations I’ve been asked to help, I'd say 95% of them present with the same “problem” when they call me: “we just need more donors.” “You and everyone else” I usually say, semi sarcastically. Digging deeper into their situation usually leads to the following findings:

  • No effort to collect names of potential new donors.
  • No consistent/planned annual communication calendar or “doing what we’ve always done”
  • No donor-centric communications - in fact, usually very few communications besides appeals (which are often “emergencies”) and fundraising event invitations.
  • Scant if any donor appreciation efforts - just a boilerplate thank you note that doubles as a tax receipt.
  • No lapsed donor outreach or recapture. 

What these organizations need more than new donors is actually...

I then try to gently, explain that organizations that do not undertake the types of efforts necessary to KEEP donors should not spend their time trying to get more donors just to lose them after their first gift. Failure to plug the leaking bucket will inevitably leave you in the same situation. It is easy to see from the outside, but it seems that most organizations have become “nose blind” to their stinky mess of a situation. Losing donors - either after their first gift, bitterly after years of support, or because they are dying off can create one heck of a problem. Add on the fact that while the donor pool is shrinking, the budget is increasing - you can see why people hire a professional. To make matters worse, organizations without the above efforts are typically losing donors at rates faster than they are adding new donors. What these organizations need more than new donors is actually consistent, strong communications, and donor retention. Then they can focus on adding new donors. But then again, they would have already done so. 

If you feel your organization just needs some new donors and your fundraising problems will go away, think again! Take a look at some of the programs and efforts that are present in successful organizations, that grow their donor base year-over-year: 

Collect names of potential new donors

Are you one of those organizations that’s willing to spend exorbitant amounts on lists of “names of donors” or to hire someone “with a Rolodex who can raise more than their salary”? Truth bomb: The organizations that want this type of person are usually not doing what they need to and are willing to pay to have their problems go away! Not to mention, the best fundraisers in the US will not work for an organization that treats them like that. 

  • Ask for referrals and introductions 
  • Host “bring a friend” type events
  • Insist that your board provides introductions. Don’t fall for the “but we have already told everyone we know” trick - they told everyone they could without leaving their comfort zone! 

Create an annual communication calendar

Now that you have the names of potential new donors, add them to a mailing list with all your donors and start to communicate with everyone regularly. You will plan ahead so there won’t be any surprises or last-minute struggles. 

  • The key is to pay attention to your “Ask to Touchpoint Ratio” - making sure every time your audience hears from you it’s not just for money - you should only ask one out of every three or four communications.  
  • Do one thing this year that is different from “what you’ve always done” and see how it goes. Some things will stick and others won’t - but start to grow and adapt. your efforts. 

Be more donor-centric

The donor is the hero… make them feel that way. Without their gift, you would not be able to do the amazing work you are doing. When people give, as altruistic as it is to help others, the donor still wants to be appreciated and feel that they made a difference. Donor centric communications will:

  • Tell the donor about the impact of their gift
  • Thank the donor in every communication - even if the reader never gave or haven’t given in a while
  • Tell the donor that they are the reason all the good work is being done
  • Tell them in as much detail as possible what work was done since their last gift. 
Bonus: Stop it with the emergency appeals. Seriously! Emergency appeals are amateur, show a lack of fiscal responsibility, and assume that your inability to get donations from a broader audience should be your donor’s top priority. Cut them out! 

Show your donors you love and appreciate them

My famous line “nobody ever stopped giving because they were too appreciated” is true. 

  • Every gift should receive a personal thank you (phone call or handwritten note at the least) within 48 hours of the gift being made. But that’s just the minimum. The best organizations thank their donors 3, 5, even 7 different ways for their gift. 

Recapture your lapsed donors

There are many reasons donors stop giving - some are good reasons and some aren’t. 

  • You will not know why a donor stopped giving if you do not ask
  • You are leaving money on the table every year if you fail to personally reach out to your LYBNTs (LYBNT = Last Year But Not This)
  • Email, call, and write to lapsed donors at least once per year. Ask them for a gift or to let you know why they stopped giving. 

It’s sometimes hard to hear the truth in these conversations. Swallow your pride and remember that the donor’s perspective is their reality and you can use these reasons as fuel to get better. 

If you're doing these things, THEN (and only then) should you start to focus your efforts on adding new potential donors. From my experience, the organizations that do these things are not short on new donors and when they are, a simple campaign can bring even more.