Donor Loyalty: The Holy Grail of Fundraising

July 29, 2015
By Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Stansbury Consulting

Alyce Lee will share more insights at NCAN's national conference in September in two highly interactive workshops: “Raising More Money by Keeping the Donors you Already Have” and “5 Secrets to Building a Fundraising Board”. 

If you’ve attended a nonprofit governance or fundraising conferences or read any nonprofit news reports recently, you’ve likely heard this steady refrain: sustainability is the name of the game. The recession was a stark wake-up call for many nonprofits, including some who are no longer in business, that it’s not enough for a nonprofit to be funded or even fundable. Nonprofits have to be sustainable to not just survive but thrive.

At this year’s AFP International Conference on Fundraising and at Planet Philanthropy, Florida’s state fundraising conference, I heard thought-leaders like Simone Joyeaux, ACFRE, Tom Ahern, Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Adrian Sargeant, PhD. These speakers addressed significant topics impacting the financial viability of nonprofits but none more important than the need to grow and nurture donor loyalty. Building donor loyalty is the cornerstone of any successful fundraising effort and the key to moving your organization from a hand-to-mouth existence to being a thriving, financially sustainable organization.

Throughout my career as a development officer, board member, instructor, and consultant, I’ve been a vocal advocate for the power of stewardship. Researcher and author Penelope Burk, President of Cygnus Applied Research, says it costs five times more to recruit a new donor than to reactive a lapsed donor. Research also has determined fundraisers spend 70 percent of their time on the “churn”, the on–going process of raising funds and recruiting donors, and only 30 percent on donor retention. According to the 2014 Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Effectiveness Report, the U.S. median donor retention rate is 43 percent. That means for every ten donors who give, only four give again. It’s vital for volunteer and staff leaders of nonprofits to prioritize donor retention and make time to nurture meaningful relationships with donors and funding partners. Sustainability starts with keeping your givers giving and results from earning the right to ask again and again.

If your organization is not laser-focused on keeping your givers giving, you are wasting valuable time and resources. Too often, nonprofits are spending most of their limited fundraising resources on events, mailings, social media, grant requests, and more events. These are important but they pale in comparison to maintaining a robust donor relations program. Finding and attracting new donors will never produce the same return as keeping the donors you already have. That’s because the people most likely to give again and give at higher levels are people already giving to your cause. Donor loyalty is the holy grail of fundraising. And no organization will be sustainable without it.

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, is President of Stansbury Consulting, a leading fundraising consulting firm headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida. She is a 25 year nonprofit veteran, consultant, teacher, and co-author of a weekly column on nonprofits. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. She can be reached at or (850) 668-2569.

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