Retaining Donors and Supporters

Adrianne DuMond

Are you neglecting your long time supporters and donors? Most of us in the non-profit world have loyal contributors to our endeavors, for whom we are eternally grateful. With long standing relationships, they contribute year after year and we may tend to take their support for granted. We may think we know well what their needs and preferences are, and why they continue to be so faithful. 

Some recent research I came across, about the predictability of being able to define needs and preferences of someone whom we have known for a long time, made me think about the application of this information to donors and supporters.

Research done by the ‘Journal of Consumer Psychology’ suggests that even though people can be good at predicting likes and dislikes (approval and disapproval) of those they have known for a long time, the findings are different. Surprisingly, the longer we know someone, the worse our predictions may get. 

There are several reasons why a long-standing relationship could lead to a reduced understanding of a donor’s loyalty. First, the agreements and understanding of the organization’s purpose and mission may have come very early in the relationship. Since that time there may have been changes in leadership, in policies, or even the mission. But efforts to involve the long-standing donor, to explain the changes, and seek understanding, have been overlooked in the rush of business. 

A second reason is that a long-standing relationship may be built on true friendship and respect where socialization may take time away from an honest assessment of whether that donor really approves of changes going on. One tends to take for granted the support of someone who joins you for lunch, but the subject of organizational business never arises. So, again, the support is assumed without asking for feedback. 

I have seen agencies start a fundraising endeavor by blanketing the universe with appeal letters. Again, some research shows that the results of this style of fundraising does not yield the return that spending more time with long-standing supporters does. 

My suggestion is to be proactive, honest, and forthright with long time donors and supporters. Don’t take for granted their approval and support. Have a continuous exchange with them so that there are no surprises when it comes time for them to make their donations.

Author: Adrianne DuMond,  Executive Coaches of Orange County,