For the last several years, the idea of donor retention has been much discussed. Thought leaders like Adrian Sargeant, Penelope Burk, Jay Love and so many others including those associated with the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, have urged us to improve our stewardship practices telling us that donor attrition will rates will never improve if we don’t continue to improve our stewardship practices. As a result, we’ve all worked harder to acknowledge gifts in a more timely fashion, more sincerely, and more creatively with mixed results. We’ve also worked to be more creative and faithful about reporting back to our donors about the impact of their gifts, again, with mixed results. Reports on our practices continue to find uneven practices with some of us acknowledging gifts swiftly, others slowly, and still others, not at all.
In the years that we have spent talking about donor stewardship and its importance for donor retention, little seems to have changed. In fact, if anything, donor retention rates have continued their downward spiral and the problem has gotten worse.
Why has it been so difficult to make head-way on this problem? Why has it been so hard to turn the ship around on these issues?
Creating Your 2015 Development Plan and Setting Your Fundraising Goals
One of the things I’m often asked–especially by Executive Directors who do not have a fundraising background–is what is reasonable to expect of their development directors.
This question is hardly surprising since the overwhelming majority of executive directors are unhappy with their development directors and feel that they should expect more. The crucial report, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, reports that only 27% of Executive Directors of organizations with budgets of $1 million or less are “very satisfied” with their development directors. Executive Directors at larger organizations tend to be more satisfied with their development staff, but even there, the majority are unhappy with them. At nonprofits with budgets over $10 million—the organizations that have the budget size that presumably allows them to attract and retain top-notch fundraising professionals– Only 41% of Executive Directors report that they are very satisfied with their development directors. It is universal, then, that E.D.’s are unhappy with their Development Directors.
Further, disturbingly, 25% of the Executive Directors report that their last development director was fired. The primary reasons for that are poor fundraising performance (31%), poor performance in general (31%), or a non-fit with the organizational culture (22%). On the last one I’ll say, if a fundraiser is trying to create a fundraising culture where there is none, then OF COURSE the fundraiser won’t fit with the culture AND ISN’T THAT A GOOD THING that the Executive Director should support?