The Problem of Too Many Prospects or Donors

March 10, 2015       Patrick Sullivan      

Too many fundraisers want more donors in the door and don’t care about what happens after the first gift. “They enter the dreaded ‘donor death spiral,’” said Rob Reger, senior vice president at the Irving, Texas office of data firm Epsilon. “That occurs with too many one-time or short-term donors who aren’t loyal to the organization.”

Reger, along with Sandra Miao of the National Wildlife Federation and Jim Emlet of Integral, presented a panel on long-term value during the recent Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference in Oxon Hill, Md.

“The health of constituents erodes without long-term value,” said Reger. “Organizations may not have attracted the right donors to begin with that have high long-term value, or maybe there are no marketing strategies that convince donors to stick around.”

Miao said she was hired by the National Wildlife Federation in Reston, Va., to be the “acquisitions lady,” and bring on as many donors as possible. She said that because NWF is a lobbying organization, it’s important to have as many members as possible. “We forgot to think that we want a bunch of members who care about us and what we do, and will stay,” she said.

The most important change NWF made in to engage donors more was breaking down fundraising silos, said Miao. “We have our major donors, mid-level and planned giving people over here. Over here, we have online, that talks to major donors but doesn’t say the same thing as major gifts does. Then there’s us (direct response), sending out millions of packages, and our message isn’t the same as online, major gifts or planned giving,” she said.

The solution was to put all fundraising under one umbrella, reporting to one vice president. While the departments all have their own annual goals, “now we interact with each other and make sure our goals support each other and the overarching organizational goal,” said Miao.

One of the results of NWF’s focus on long-term value has been (and will continue to be) a short-term drop in membership. “The Federation is no longer going to be a million strong. That was a hard sell,” said Miao. She said membership will dip to sub-600,000 before climbing again. “But it will be filled with more valuable donors,” she added.

From an analytics point of view, Emlet, a principal at Washington, D.C., firm Integral, said to build a strategic map takes five stages:

  • Identify goals: “This is the most challenging,” said Emlet. “You can go to various people in the organization and get a different answer, but there needs to be a goal. If it needs to start more modestly, focused on a small part, that’s ok.”
  • Build a framework: This involves deciding which analytics will be the best measures of success.
  • Outline investments: Investments need to be multi-year at the board level.
  • Show results: “When you do go to your boss and your board and ask for more money, they’ll want to see results,” he said.
  • Monitor and adjust: If you don’t reach your goals, understand why and rework accordingly, said Emlet.