Time, It can Be On Your Side

Ten years.  That’s how long it takes for a seedling Pecan tree to grow large enough to bear fruit.  If you are impatient, don’t even think about become a Pecan farmer.  Or a fundraiser.  Getting money can be fast—but developing a donor, nurturing and taking care that the donor stays connected with and committed to you—ah, that takes time.


For years, we’ve heard and read about the issues of donor attrition—how 60% of all first time donors don’t become second time donors; how for every $100 new dollars we get, we lose somewhere around $96, for every 100 new donors, more than 100 fade away.  

And yet, by and large, nonprofits still do a terrible job of stewarding their donors.

Thank you and please give me more is not a way to warm the cockles of your donors’ hearts.  Reaching out to your donors only when you are asking for money will not gain you loyalty.  Neglecting to tell you donors about the effect of their gifts will only ensure that they have much effect because they won’t give again.

If you don’t take the time to create loyal, committed donors, you are not just wasting your time, you are leaving a whole lot of money on the table.    

First gifts, typically, are but a fraction of what a donor could give—if not every year then every so often.  But even if the size of donor’s gift never grows, the aggregate value of a donor who gives over many years can be huge.  

More than just giving, is how your loyal donors can help get support from others.  Alas, because we focus on slash and burn fundraising—gimme, gimme, gimme.  Oh yeah, thanks.  Gimme—your donors (typically former donors) are frustrated.  Angry.  And angry people tell many people about why they are angry.  In fact, people tend to tell 15 people about bad experiences, compared to the 11 they will tell about good ones.  

Often, we don’t give our donors good experiences because we are too focused on getting new donors. Donors we will lose in a year if we don’t take the long view and build strong relationships with these donors. 

Just as I advise those in small development offices to commit to spending 4 hours a week planning their major donor program—identifying who to contact, building donor profiles, creating cultivation plans—and doing the legwork to get appointments with these prospects; you should be spending another two to four hours a week planning how you will be stewarding your donors—from small to very large.

And then, work the plan you devise.  In the long run, you and your organization will reap the benefits.

Janet Levine