Why do people stop giving?

This has, unlike so much in the fundraising realm, been objectively researched and I commend the paper to you.

This paper tested six attributes of connection between people and causes they support.  Guess which ones actually mattered to donor loyalty (I am paraphrasing their points somewhat):

  • The nonprofit shares my beliefs
  • I have a personal link to the cause
  • The nonprofit’s performance is strong
  • I trust the organization
  • I have a deeper knowledge of the organization
  • The quality of the donor services they provide me is high

A hint: four of these matter; two don’t. I’ll pause here why you contemplate.

(pause)

I’m Henry the 8th I am.  Henry the 8th I am I am.  I got married to the widow next door.  She’s been married seven times before and all of them were named Henry – HENRY.  Henry the 8th I am.

Second verse!  Same as the first!  Little bit faster and a little bit worse!

henry the eighth2
Does anyone else find it weird that in this “romantic” movie, he got his first date with his wife by aurally torturing her. Stalker much? (Also, this is Ghost for you young’uns.)

Oh, you’re back.

The four that were important were:

  • The nonprofit shares my beliefs – One of the key drivers of giving and support is the desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing the organization is like you and has a similar core system to you is vital.  This is something you can use in your writings – “You know how vital art instruction in elementary school is to raising creative, happy, and well-rounded children and that’s why we…”
  • I have a personal link to the cause – Not surprising. Those impacted by a disease, an injustice, a crime, a whatever, are going to likely be among the strongest to support a cause about these things.  The next step, however, is not done often enough – you often can see a significant retention lift if you can reference this: “You know better than most the heavy toll of…”  Beyond this, if appropriate for your cause, work with those who have a personal link to the cause to celebrate this.  Techniques like anniversary cards (congratulations on three years cancer-free today!) can work well, but more than that, peer-to-peer fundraising can allow a person to celebrate those anniversaries on their own behalf.  You cannot craft a message better than: “I believe in X because of Y. Because you are a person like me, please support X also.”
  • I trust the organization. Trust is, I would argue, a necessary but not sufficient condition of support. No one who does not trust you will support you.  You can borrow trust with social proof techniques like the BBB seal on your donation form, but generally, running a tight ship nonprofit is sufficient.
  • The quality of the donor services they provide me is high. Another necessary but not sufficient condition.  In my experience, a good donor relations person can help turn around a less positive donor experience more easily than trust can be repaired, but it’s important to treat the people who help you serve people well. This starts with customization and if you missed the initial post on this, here it is.  Letting the donor know you know them is critical to quality donor services.

The converse of these is what causes people to lapse: if they no longer trust you, they think you share their values, their link to the cause is diminished or severed, or have a bad donor experience, they are more likely to not give in the future.

What of the two that don’t matter?  Performance of the nonprofit is what the Charity Navigators of the world attempt to quantify, first by pretending that percent of overhead means anything to impact, second by feigning that checkboxes around transparency mean someone is active in their community, and now with Charity Navigator 3.0, which has non-subject-matter experts reviewing the statements of subject matter experts to gauge impact and achieving the same level of impact as me commenting on neurosurgical techniques. It turns that those who can’t don’t teach; they rate.

It’s this type of performance that doesn’t seem to matter as much to loyalty.  People give to something because it feels good to give – to plant the tree whose shade you may never enjoy.  Getting into performance and numbers and such can sap the joy from the process.  Or at least that’s my theory on what that didn’t rate.

As for depth of education, it’s great to educate the people who actively want to learn more about your cause.  Donor telephone town halls, reports back, impact statements and the like are all good ways to do this.  But so much of education from nonprofits comes from the false belief that “if only people really understood the problem, then more of them would give.”  In fact, it’s probably that curse of knowledge I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that makes you speak in buzzwords and feel like you can educate the passion into someone.  A story, told well, means far more.

So now you know a little about why people lapse.  And it should be no surprise that retention is worst after the first gift.  There isn’t a built up trust.  There may or may not be a connection to the nonprofit (and if there is, the nonprofit may not know about it yet).  Communications haven’t been established and you haven’t told the donor the great things they did with that first gift yet.

Increasing that percentage of second gifts is the biggest area for almost any retention effort.  So I’ll cover that tomorrow.

Why do people stop giving?

Please share your thoughts.

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