Broaden Donor Support to Deepen the Donor Relationship

by Rick Dunham, Founder+CEO

I was in a meeting at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on behalf of the Giving USA Foundation when a colleague from the Foundation said to me, “You’ve got to read this article that I just came across.”

We were talking about the notion that if a donor gives their first gift to a particular initiative, it seems logical that you ought to continue to cultivate the donor around that initiative. The research, however, showed just the opposite. If you slot a donor into a single giving bucket, you actually diminish the effectiveness of that relationship and decrease retention.

The well-researched article turned an industry assumption on its head, demonstrating one of the most important truths of philanthropy: successful fundraising depends on data-informed strategies. Too often I have seen clients make strategic decisions based on assumptions not supported by evidence. That’s why we at Dunham+Company strive to be a repository of research and data insights that we can utilize to inform our clients’ strategies.

Going back to that article, the authors stressed that the more a donor supports multiple initiatives of an organization the greater the donor retention. In other words, the deepest relationship a donor will have with an organization is when they’ve developed a heart for the organization itself rather than just a particular aspect of that organization’s work.

Simply put, if you want to retain donors more effectively, you must broaden their support to more than one initiative. But to broaden that support, you need to bring the donor along on a journey to understand those opportunities and why supporting them makes sense.

This may go without saying, but many organizations have never thought about taking the donor on a journey to understand the wide-reaching impact of the organization… and how the donor’s ongoing support can make an even greater difference. Instead, too many organizations think very tactically and transactionally about the donor relationship.

I remember working with a ministry a number of years ago that had a television and radio ministry, which is where they acquired their donors. But they also had an effective international ministry. The issue they kept running into was that they would acquire donors from the initial acquisition, which was typically around a product or resource they offered, but then lose those donors as they tried to get those donors to give to the international ministry.

The problem? They had no journey for the donor to take to educate them and inspire them around the impact of the international ministry.

So one small change we made was to add a permanent section in the organization’s newsletter highlighting the international outreach featuring stories of transformed lives. As we applied this strategy, we began giving the donor the opportunity to support the international ministry and as we did, donors began to support that work at a very high level.

It’s just like dating. If you’re really interested in somebody, you have to take the initiative to build that relationship and establish trust because trust is the currency of a donor’s relationship with an organization. The stronger the sense of trust that’s built, the greater the opportunity to engage that donor.

So don’t lock your donors into supporting just one initiative or project of your organization. Broaden their support because as you do, you will deepen the relationship and increase retention.

To find out more about building more personal relationships with donors… check out our podcast Why Donors Give… and Keep Giving with Rick Dunham on The Dunham Podcast.


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Ready to take the next step? Dunham+Company is here to help your organization have more impact and establish deeper relationships with your donors and supporters. Contact Bethany Cranfield at 469-454-0100 to get more information.