How many lists have you seen giving rules you should follow to retain a donor? I hope you collect them all, because retaining a donor is the most important task in fundraising. Even more important than acquiring the donor in the first place (I hope a few readers go head-to-head with me on that proposition).

So I was pleased to read Willis Turner’s list with a twist — 30 Ways to Lose Your Donor — in Fundraising Success.

Lists like this tend to repeat the same things, so I’m always looking to find something new, or if not new, put in a way that really drives a familiar point home in a new way.

Here are a few items from Willis’ list that grabbed me (remember, these are things not to do):

Marry her for her money. Whether you ask for a lot or a little, the relationship won’t work if she feels used. Let her know she’s valuable for more than just her gifts.

Hide your feelings. It can’t be overstated: Emotion drives giving. Emotion drives giving. Emotion drives giving. Got it?

Overlook her needs. She’s helping because you need it, but she’s also doing it because there’s an emotional reward for her. Ask yourself, “What can I do to tell her how important she is to me?”

Leave her on the sidelines. There are other ways she can be involved than just giving you money. Find other ways for her to make a difference: Send her a petition, ask her to attend a rally, whatever.

Forget her name. Data drives everything. If you call her Jane instead of Joan or don’t know her new address, she’ll find someone else who never forgets who she is.

Assume she remembers all about you. Reinforcement and repetition are more powerful than you think. You spend your life thinking about your organization. Your average donor thinks about you a few seconds a month. Just about the time you’re getting sick and tired of an idea, or a copy theme or a piece of art, your donor is just starting to notice it.

And my personal favorite:

Be too passive. It isn’t how many donors you acquire that matters; it’s how many you keep. A donor’s not really a donor until she makes a second gift. So tell her how much she means to you and ask for support again right away.

Note that again: “A donor’s not really a donor until she makes a second gift.”

I think every fundraiser should have that statement on their bulletin board. Even stapled to their forehead.

My way of putting it is: The first gift was an accident!

So if you want a retention list with only one item on it, my one item would be: Get a second gift, quickly.

All the other items on the list — Willis’ and all the others — are simply advice on How to do that (or not).

And #1 on the How list: Thank her immediately and as personally as possible.


P.S. Willis’ 30 Ways reminded me of Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Here’s how leaving looks from the departing donor’s perspective …

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

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