The most bone-headed fundraising meme of our time

It was a well-known speaker in the fundraising industry — someone you’ve heard of — speaking at a large and well-attended conference last week.

The speaker’s assertion: Donor retention has got so bad, we should just stop acquiring new donors and focus all our energy on retention.

A few people sitting near me rolled their eyes. Others around the room furiously scribbled notes. I hope they were writing “Just shoot me now.” But I’m afraid not.

I wouldn’t really bother bringing it up if it were just one bone-headed idea from one industry expert who hasn’t done their homework. But I keep encountering this Stop Acquiring New Donors Meme. People are saying that all over the place. I wonder how many fundraisers have actually taken this horrific bit of advice.

Stopping your flow of new donors is probably the most self-destructive act you could make. The insidious thing about it is that it would seem like a good move at first: Most new-donor activities operate at or near a net-revenue loss. So for a while, you’d likely improve your bottom line. For a while. Mean time, you continue to lose donors without replacing them. The loss of the new blood will hurt next year — and for the next five to ten years, in the form of revenue you’ll never get. Even if you wise up and turn the new-donor program back on, you’ll suffer from the time you spent not getting donors. It’s a loss you will never recoup, and you’ll only recover from slowly.

Donor retention is bad. It’s a huge problem for almost everyone. It’s worse than it used to be. You should be all over improving your donor retention.

But you’re not going to solve it by stopping acquisition.

Stopping acquisition to fight the retention problem is like combating air pollution by locking yourself in a vacuum chamber with no air at all. Yeah, the air pollution would stop being a problem. But you’ve just replaced it with a very much more serious problem.

Next time you read or hear the Stop Acquiring New Donors Meme, join the group who just roll their eyes and move on. Frankly, if others stop acquiring, it only helps those of us who keep it going.

Just don’t let your organization be one of those that let an ill-considered, half-baked idea kill their fundraising program.


Comments

6 responses to “The most bone-headed fundraising meme of our time”

  1. Bone-headed is right! An old sales adage that’s equally relevant here… 20% attrition over 5 years leaves you with zero customers, donors, whatever… People die, move, hit financial hard times, become attracted to other causes.
    Eyes rolling…

  2. Bone-headed is right! An old sales adage that’s equally relevant here… 20% attrition over 5 years leaves you with zero customers, donors, whatever… People die, move, hit financial hard times, become attracted to other causes.
    Eyes rolling…

  3. Found this quite amusing. And I guess I must hang around with folks who have more common sense than the meme-ranting, chanting folks of whom you speak. Would a cola company stop trying to acquire the next generation of soda drinkers? I think not. Pipeline has to be full. We just need to slow the flow out the other end. But natural attrition is a killer. Literally. No way around it!

  4. Found this quite amusing. And I guess I must hang around with folks who have more common sense than the meme-ranting, chanting folks of whom you speak. Would a cola company stop trying to acquire the next generation of soda drinkers? I think not. Pipeline has to be full. We just need to slow the flow out the other end. But natural attrition is a killer. Literally. No way around it!

  5. Joe Parker Avatar
    Joe Parker

    With forty years served in the nonprofit world, I’ve consistently heard all the “arguments” you listed.
    I’m not writing to argue or to prove something. At the same time, I believe I’ve earned the right to simply state the method of handling something mundane, like indenting. My practice…
    Reserve indenting for personal communication (appeal letters and thank you notes for current gifts). All else can have blocked paragraphs.
    May I get an Amen?
    Oh, and I tell board members to stick with their own expertise, and their opinions to themselves — with a smile on my face, of course.

  6. Joe Parker Avatar
    Joe Parker

    With forty years served in the nonprofit world, I’ve consistently heard all the “arguments” you listed.
    I’m not writing to argue or to prove something. At the same time, I believe I’ve earned the right to simply state the method of handling something mundane, like indenting. My practice…
    Reserve indenting for personal communication (appeal letters and thank you notes for current gifts). All else can have blocked paragraphs.
    May I get an Amen?
    Oh, and I tell board members to stick with their own expertise, and their opinions to themselves — with a smile on my face, of course.

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

Recent Comments

About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog