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Why Donors Leave

Excerpted from Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life

I'd just made what I felt was a mighty effective case for a major gift from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and was absolutely startled when he said, "No, I won't give!"

I was nonplussed. "May I ask why?"

His response: "Because of minced pie."

A bit dumbfounded, I eventually found my tongue. "What does minced pie have to do with giving to our alma mater?"

"Nothing," he said. "But when you don't want to give, one excuse is as good as another."

Fortunately, when it comes to donor defection, there aren't many "minced-pie" reasons for leaving. In general, we know why donors stop giving, and it's possible for every organization to identify the specific reasons donors quit it.

You might want to take a look at a Bloomerang infographic that's outlines the reasons why donors leave compared to the reasons consumers walk away from businesses.

It's worth exploring in some detail the reasons donors leave:

5%—Thought the charity didn't need them.
Clearly, if you don't tell donors about your needs, or, better yet, the beneficiaries you help, why should they bother staying with you? After all, they joined because they wanted to help.

8%—No information on how monies were used.
There are two key questions donors ask: 1) Why do you need my help? and 2) Did my contribution make any difference? Fail to answer these two questions and you'll lose your donors, especially as more skeptical "show-me" Baby Boomers and Generations Y and X come to the fore. Remember: if you neglect to tell 'em, there are thousands of other organizations that will.

9%—No memory of supporting.
If ever there were evidence of ineffective communication and branding, this is it. If you don't help a donor distinguish your organization from others, you're likely to be forgotten. Generalized or aspirational taglines such as "We work hard to feed the hungry" or "We offer excellence in a multi-cultural environment" serve only to reinforce donor amnesia.

13%—Never got thanked for donating.
Failure to thank a donor properly is bad manners and horrible fundraising. No act of omission more clearly signals, "We don't care. Just send the money." Is it any surprise organizations that behave rudely don't hold onto their donors?

No surprise here. Donors tend to be far older than the general population. Notice that the commercial world with far, far younger consumers loses only 1 percent because of mortality. If, however, you've treated your donors well, a small but special group will make their largest contributions at the end of life in the form of bequests or other planned gifts.

18%—Poor service or communication.
Relative to the minutiae we obsess about—our logo, the annual report, the mission statement—too many of us just don't grasp why spelling a donor's name correctly or promptly responding to inquiries and complaints is so important. We mistakenly treat donor service as a cost center, when in reality good service can add thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands to the bottom line.

36%—Others more deserving.
This statistic screams failure on the part of fundraising and communications departments. With more than a million groups clamoring for support, organizations that don't state a powerful case leave themselves wide open to donors defecting to similar groups.

54%—Could no longer afford.
This may be the mince-pie excuse in this lineup of reasons why donors stop their support. Experience shows that organizations that make strong cases and provide positive experiences usually avoid being cut as donors trim the list of groups they support due to changes in health, retirement, or reduction in income.

Do you note a pattern or common thread in these reasons for defection? With the exception of death and a donor's personal financial situation, every single one is entirely within the control of your organization. That's right, organizations through their own actions—or inactions—are severely jeopardizing their own retention rates.

Why-Donors-Leave_Roger-Craver.jpgRoger M. Craver
© 2014, Roger M. Craver. Excerpted from Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life. Excerpted with permission.

A fundraising pioneer since the 1960s, Roger Craver brings an experienced and critical eye to the greatest problem faced by today's nonprofits: donor retention. He has conducted capital and annual fundraising campaigns, advocacy and membership drives in the United States, Canada, and throughout Europe.

Topics: Fundraising