Learn about your donors by changing one thing

Congratulations!  A constituent joined your organization!  Now what?  

Welcome series!  Then what?

Well, of course, you drop them into the communication channel of their origin right?

As our Direct Marketing Master Yoda* would say:

6a90683cc161c525f9fbc01036b2c5b6

No. No. No.  Quicker, easier, more seductive.

But in this case, not ideal.  It’s not ideal for the constituent and it’s not ideal for learning more about what this person actually wants — you may be freezing what this person “is” before you’ve had a chance to find out.

The person has already told you that they are responsive to three things:

  • Medium: If they respond to a mail piece, for example, they do not hate mail pieces. It may not be their only, or even their favorite means of communication, but it is one to which they respond.
  • Message: Your mission probably entails multiple things.  Your goal may be wetlands preservation and you work to accomplish this through education, research, and direct conservation.  If someone downloaded your white paper on the current state of wetlands research and your additional research goals, you know that they are responsive to that research message.  It may not be their only or favorite message, but they respond.
  • Action: If someone donates, they are willing to donate.  If they sign a petition, they are willing to petition.  You can guess the rest of this about them perhaps being willing to do other things.

Other than welcome series, which I’ll talk about at another time, you are trying to sail between the Scylla of sending the same thing over and over again and the Charybdis of bombarding people with different, alien messages, media, and asks.

Thus, I would recommend what I’d call the bowling alley approach in honor of Geoffrey Moore, who advocated for a similar approach to entering new markets in his for-profit entrepreneurial classic Crossing the Chasm

The idea in the for-profit world is that you enter with one market with one product.  Once you have a foothold, you try to see that same market a different product and a different market your original product, in the same way that hitting a front bowling pin works to knock down the two behind it.

Here, we play three-dimensional bowling**. The idea behind the non-profit bowling alley, or change one, approach is that you should change only one aspect at a time of your medium, message, and action.

Let’s take our wetlands organization as an example — they work to educate, research, and conserve.  They have people who download white papers and informational packets, people who take advocacy actions, and donors.  And their means of communication are mail, phone, and online.

Let’s further take a person who downloads a white paper on research online and provides her mail and email address.  The usual temptation would be to drop her into the regular email newsletter and into the warm lead acquisition mail stream (and maybe to even do a phone append to call her).

But this would not be the best approach: you would be taking someone who, for all you know, is interested only in one medium, message, and action and asking them for something completely different.

Rather, it would be better if at first you probe other areas of interest.  Ideally, you would ask her:

  • Online for downloading additional information about research (same medium, message, and action)
  • Online for advocacy actions and donations related to research (same medium and message; different action)
  • Online for downloading information about education and conservation (same medium and action; different message)
  • In the mail and on the phone for getting additional information about research (same message and action; different medium)

Obviously, this last part is not practical; mail and phone are too expensive to not have a donation ask involved. However, you could make the mail and phone asks specific to “we need your help to help make our research resources available not just to you, but to policymakers across the country” — tying it as directly as possible to where their known area of interest.

Over time, you should get a strong picture of this person.  Maybe they are willing to do anything for your organization by any means as long as it is focus on your research initiatives.  Maybe they are willing to engage with you about anything, as long as it is only online.  And maybe they like research and conservation, but not education; online and mail, but not phone; and getting information and donating, but not engaging their representatives.

Taking it one step at a time not only helps you learn this over time, but also helps you learn it without culture shock.  If someone downloads a white paper and you ask them to take an advocacy action on that same issue online, they may not be interested, but they likely see the throughline to the action they took.  If they download a white paper and get a phone call for an unrelated action, they likely will not.

It’s the difference between a donor response of “I can see why you’d think that, but no thanks” and “what the hell?” (followed by the constituent equivalent of getting a drink thrown in your face).

It’s also why I recommend going back to the original communication mechanism for lapsed donors in the lapsed donor reactivation post.  In that case, it may be literally the one and only thing you know that works.

You may say that you don’t have the resources to do five different versions of each mail piece or telephone script.  But you can do this inexpensively if you are varying your mail messages throughout the year.  For a warm lead acquisition strategy, simply make sure the advocacy people get the advocacy mail piece and not the others for now.  If you find out some of them are responsive to a mail donation ask, you can ramp up cadence later, but for now, your slower cultivation and learning strategy can pay dividends.

This also helps prevent a common mistake: creating groups like “online advocates,” “white paper downloaders,” etc. and then mailing them without cross-suppression.  If you send each of three groups a monthly mail piece and someone is in all three groups, they may end up getting 36 mail pieces if you don’t cross-suppression (so that these groups are prioritized into like packages instead of everyone in a group getting everything).

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to get this type of intelligence from what you’ve already done.

* Don’t believe me?  Check Yoda’s outstanding donor newsletter here

** Science fiction always has people playing three-dimensional chess, but not three-dimensional bowling.  Why or why not?  Discuss.

Learn about your donors by changing one thing

Why know about your donors?

Winter is coming to nonprofits. Unnamed, faceless, cold, sparse, biting, relentless, gnawing winter. And not all of us will survive.

sean-bean

There are more nonprofits than ever before and that number is increasing.

The pie of charitable giving is expanding, but not as a percentage of GDP and not as a much as the number of nonprofits are expanding. Thus, the average nonprofit’s funding will be going down.

Retention rates (when controlling for lifecycle as advocated here) are at best flat and often down. Online donor retention rates are particularly alarming.

And it is becoming more expensive to retain donors. In order to hit net revenue budgets, nonprofits increase the number of communications sent. Communications increase in quantity and decrease in quality of results for each piece.

As retention drops, the need for additional acquisition increases, further increasing donor-by-donor pressure to give broadly and shallowly.

Nonprofits flee to what they believe is quality, recapitulating what has worked for others. Donors see the playbook, whether it is address labels or a compelling story.

Everyone has a story and most can be told compellingly. So we do. But it’s enough less and less of the time.

Most nonprofits do most of their acquisition from lists of people who give to other nonprofits. Few bring in new people to the idea of philanthropy, considering it is easier to get the philanthropic to give more.

The tragedy of the commons plays out in a million different households. Maybe ten million. To give to one is to be solicited by that one and by the many.

The donor pool is now an apt analogy, as we are polluting and overfishing these same waters without restocking.

Winter is coming. So what needs to be done first?

One might say let’s prevent winter. One would be correct. It is necessary for our long-term survival. We will talk about converting people into the idea of giving at another time — it would be called stimulating primary demand in the for-profit world.

But one must survive the short term to get to the long term. And thus, there is something we need to do first.

One might say to be donor-centric and to love our donors. One would be correct. The ones who will make it through this winter will be the ones that have stood out from the crowd. Their envelopes will be opened, possibly partly for the free gift, but mostly for the joy they create and reinforce. Their emails will be read possibly partly for a nifty subject line, but mostly for a human connection that they forge. Their calls will be answered because they thanked and thanked well.

But there is a precondition for donor-centric treatment. And thus, there is something we need to do first.

The first thing is to know. We must know who donates. Yes, we need to know their demographics, but also far beyond that. We need to know the world they dream of creating. And we need to tell them about how they are helping to create that world.

These wonderful people are planting seeds. They are planning them so kids have a place to swing, so there is shade, so that people can breathe easier, so we can have apples. We owe it to apple people to know they in it for the apples. We owe it to them to tell them about neither the tire swing nor the shade if they don’t care. Our story to them will be the deep moist flesh that children will pick from their tree and the juices that will stay on their cheeks until banished by a shirt sleeve. We will speak of shade to shade people and breathing to those who value breathing most.

To do this, we need to know.

This week will be focused on how to know. I’ll go into the sausage-making that is gaining donor intelligence. But it’s important we start with the why.

It’s because winter is coming. Only those provisioned with true friends will make it through.

The good news is that we are nonprofits. We face down demons worse than winter.

Why know about your donors?

How to structure your matching gift campaign

Matching gift campaigns work. But are they necessary?

Whether it’s a grantor’s challenge fund, a campaign match, a fund set up by a generous donor or donors, matching gifts are a frequently used and frequently successful tactic.  Most of the time, it’s set up as a “double your impact” campaign.

Three researchers — Huck, Rasul, and Shepard — looked at whether a lead donor increased the success of a campaign and how the structure of the match impacted that success.

They did this for the Bavarian State Opera House.  (BTW, if you are a researcher and want to run a test with donors on your dime, email me at nick@directtodonor.com; I’m usually game.)

300px-mc3bcnchen_nationaltheater_interior

The Bavarian State Opera House.
Fundraising motto: hey, these inlays don’t gild themselves.

Here were the six test treatments:

  1. Control: No lead donor, no match commitment
  2. Lead donor: A generous donor has already funded part of the program for 60,000 Euros (remember, Bavarian State Opera House).  We need your help with the other part.
  3. 50% match: A generous donor will match your Euro with .5 Euro.
  4. 100% match: Euro for Euro match
  5. Non-linear matching: A generous donor will match any gift made over and above 50 Euros.  (Which is to say if you donate 120 Euros, the donor gives 70.  If you donate 70, the donor gives 20.  If you donate 40, the donor gives nothing)
  6. Fixed gift matching: A generous donor will match any positive gift made with 20 Euros of his* own.

Got your guesses of what will do what?  Good — here we go with the results**:

Response rate Average gift Revenue per piece
Control 3.7% 74.3 2.79
Lead donor 3.5% 132 4.62
50% match 4.2% 101 4.19
100% match 4.2% 92.3 3.84
Non-linear match 4.3% 97.9 4.18
Fixed gift match 4.7% 69.2 3.27

Yeah, not what I thought either.  I figured, from all of the virtual ink I spilled in social proof and authority last week, that the presence of a lead donor would help. Presumably, there was another mechanism in place — that of anchoring.  I’ll dedicate a full post or five to anchoring effects at some point, but now, suffice it to say that by throwing out the number of 60,000 Euros you can trigger the idea that a person’s gift should be closer to that number.  For some, that may turn them off (although the decline in response rate wasn’t statistically significant).

What surprised me was that the matches didn’t help revenue per piece (unless of course the match is generating marginal revenue).  The matches increase response rates, but the average gift was significantly lower in all of the matches.  The authors’ hypothesis is that the match has a bit of a crowding out effect — that is, the donor feels like their 50 Euros is actually 100 Euros, so they need not make the donation of 100 Euros to have the impact they wanted to have.  This is certainly plausible and consistent with previous research.

What to make of this? Like, I’m guessing, many of you, I’d only tested matching gift language versus control language. However, there is some evidence here that simply stating that a lead gift has been made can increase the anchoring effect and support the idea that a program is worth funding without potential negative byproducts of crowding out donations.

That’s for the general case.  You might also take a look at a fixed gift match depending on your goal.  Generally, I prefer quality of donors to quantity.  However, if you were running a campaign like lapsed reactivation, you might legitimately want to maximize your response rate at the expense of short-term net revenue.

Based on this, I’m going to be looking at testing this against our typical matching gift campaign.  If you do likewise, please let me know at nick@directtodonor.com or in the comments below.  It would be great to see additional evidence on this.

*  The gendering is from the original — not my own.

** The rounding is in the original paper and throws off the revenue per piece variable a bit, but I chose to stick with what they had in the original paper.

How to structure your matching gift campaign

Wherefore segmentation?

Yes, wherefore.  As long as we are starting from first principles, we can go a little bit Elizabethan.  In the one and only famous “wherefore” quote, Juliet isn’t asking where Romeo is (below the balcony).  Hers are existential questions – for what reason does Romeo exist and what cruel twist of fate made him a Montague, her family’s mortal enemy?

For more of this, check out my likely-never-going-to-be-written book The Bard Does Nonprofit Direct Marketing (All’s Well that Ends with a Donation).

But wherefore segmentation – why does it exist?  We covered a lot of this in the last post, but we’re going to be going into them more granular than that as to who gets what communication when.  Why are we doing this?

The simple answer is “to maximize revenue.”  In this world, every mail piece would be opened and responded to, every phone call answered, every email and online ad clicked upon and donated to.

In this world, the ideal model would be one that gets this 100% response rate – it would read people’s minds and get them the lowest possible cost means of communication to get the maximum gift at the precise right moment.

This is not a horrid definition and, in fact, that would be a really cool (if magical) model to apply.

But it ignores two things: how people give and what your goals are.

Let’s say you have a person who, every year, like clockwork, gives to your membership mail appeal every January.  She’s on your email list, gets your e-newsletter, and a number of other mail pieces each year, but only gives to that one membership mail pieces every single year.

Do you think she would still give to you if that was the only communication she got from you throughout the year?

Probably not. I once walked each year for an organization that will remain nameless.  Every year, I started getting emails from them a couple months before the walk encouraging me to walk (whether I’d already signed up or not) and I would stop hearing from them after the final walk email for another 10 months.

Please notice I say I “once” walked for this organization, not that I still do that.

The bottom line is that even the most loyal of donors (especially the most loyal of donors!) want to hear from you.  Look at Professor Adrian Sergeant’s surveyed reasons why someone stopped giving to an organization:

reasons for lapse

The full study is here; it’s real and it’s spectacular.

Many of these involve someone not being communicated with enough (not acknowledging support, don’t recall supporting, no longer needs my support) or not being communicated with effectively (other causes more deserving, not informing how money was used).  Now look at the bugaboo of many an ED or board member: inappropriate communications is less than 4%.  More people defect because we don’t talk to them than defect because we talk to them too much.  So we can’t do just the pieces that “work” for a person without cutting the heart out of our communications.

As mentioned earlier, it also ignores other goals you have for your direct marketing program.  In a classic, Mal Warwick’s The Five Strategies for Fundraising Success articulates there are five goals you can set:  Growth, Involvement, Visibility, Efficiency, and Stability (GIVES).  He further says these are to a large extent mutually exclusive.

I’m not going to ruin the book for you, but this is just to say that there are things you want beyond maximizing short-term revenue.  You may want to get long-term revenue, volunteers, advocates, awareness of your causes, and more.

So how do we restate our goal?  How about:

The goal of the direct marketing program is to maximize the lifetime value of each of your constituents.

This isn’t just financial lifetime value if you have other non-financial goals, but it likely helpful to help quantify what you are willing to pay to get, for example, an advocate in order to put everything on the same scale.

This is important to have as a definition because it will help you transcend many obstacles.  When should your direct marketing donors get a major gift officer working with them?  When it will increase the donors’ lifetime value (and shame on you for saying “your donors” – donors belong to no individual within an organization). Should your national office or field offices do communications to donors?  Well, which mix will maximize lifetime value? These will likely need to be tested, but won’t it be nice to have an objective answer to some of these?

We’re going to initially talk about RFM analysis, which takes a look at which donors should get which communications.  This is absolutely necessary as a baseline.  However, if you are looking to maximize the lifetime value of each constituent, you will have to look at things differently.  It’s a minor difference, but you will need to think of “should this donor and donors like them receive this communication?” rather than “who should this communication go to?”.  It’s when you get to the point of thinking about donors first and make your communication vehicles reflect that rather than taking your communications and seeing to whom they should go.

Wherefore segmentation?

Reactivating lapsed donors

Getting lapsed donors to reactivate is second only to getting the second gift in terms of its importance on keeping your program from bleeding donors.

I often give Blackbaud a hard time, but the point in their report that you much treat lapsed donors differently is vitally important. The cost to (re)acquire is usually lower than the cost to acquire a new donors, and they almost always have better retention rates (remember how I said to track lapsed reactivation retention separately? This is why) and higher average gifts than a newly acquired donors. In fact, because of this, you should be willing to spend more to reacquire donors than to acquire them anew.

But at the same time, you can throw money away in lapsed reactivation just as easily as you can in acquisition. It’s little use to try to get someone back who, well,

He's just not that into you
Or she.

In an ideal world, you would be using modeling to find out which of your donors are most likely to reactivate. But in that ideal world, there would be no need for nonprofits, so it’s pretty clear we don’t live there. Yet.

So what can you do quickly, easily, and most importantly cheaply? Here are a few ideas:

Catch donors before they lapse. Look in your file for two things – people who don’t give as much as they used to and people who don’t give as often as they used to. You can view these folks as “relative lapsed.” They are telling you that they don’t value you as much as they used to relative to other charities or other things going on in their lives.

Identify lapsed donors who are giving to other organizations. An ideal way to do this is by joining list cooperatives, as recommended in the acquisition post. This will lead to the modeling discussed earlier. Another way of doing this is in your merge/purge process. As you rent outside lists, you run those against your file to make sure you aren’t paying for people who already have as donors. If you mark these donors who match outside lists, you will have a good indication of who are donating to other organizations (and, hence, are still alive and philanthropic generally). These lapsed donors will generally perform better than the average lapsed donors.

Identify people who just aren’t responding. Unfortunately, you can’t tell who is or isn’t opening an envelope and people may not answer a phone call for a few reasons not having to do with lapsing. However, you can tell who is and isn’t opening your emails. If you can run a report for people who haven’t opened an email in the past, say, six months, first of all, don’t email those people as much. This is a topic for a separate post, but just because you can email everyone at no marginal cost doesn’t mean you should email everyone. Suppressing these supporters for most emails will help your delivery and open rates and also help you specialize your tactics. The more salient lesson for lapsed donors is if someone isn’t opening your emails, yet their email address is still good, chances are they aren’t in love with your organization anymore and less likely to renew.

You also may want to see how many times you have mailed someone and see after how many times people in your file generally have their response rate fall off. If very few in your organization give after being solicited 24 times without a response, you may want to make this a part of your lapsed suppression criteria.

Go to the familiar. If a piece worked for someone before, send it or something like it to them again to try to reacquire them (whether an acquisition or a donor piece). This is why I recommend mailing deeper into lapsed categories for people who have given to that piece in the past. Similarly, finding messaging similar to what someone has responded to in the past makes someone more likely to respond.

Vary your messaging. This seems like it might contradict the previous one (and it does). But after so many times, messaging can also lose its effectiveness, so you might try a new tactic someone hasn’t seen before to attract them back.

Know who is worth getting back. Remember that lifetime value calculation? You will want to make sure that you aren’t investing to get people who will not pay back their investment in the long term. If someone donates $5 per year and it costs $5 to get that donation, then no amount of investment should be expended to get that person back.

So those are some retention basics in terms of technique. But the biggest thing is to treat your donors like humans – addressing your appeals to their desires and treating them politely and like an individual.

Thanks for reading and let me know if there are other topics you’d like covered.

Reactivating lapsed donors

Onboarding for donors and supporters

According to the Online Fundraising Scorecard, 37% of non-profits did not send an email within 30 days of a person signing up for emails. Only 44% asked for a donation by email within 90 days.

Let me put this in an approximate pie chart:

online supporter pie chart

We’ve seen this week that getting the second gift (or lack thereof) is where there is the greatest retention leak – people who donate once and don’t get enough out of the experience to donate again. Online donors, in particular, are the most fickle and least likely to retain.

This could be because of the medium. But it also could be that over half of all non-profits do engage people right when they express the most interest in the organization – immediately and unequivocally. To demonstrate this, try to remember what email newsletter you signed up for a month ago today.

Chances are, you can’t. Thirty days is a long time to remember you signed up for something, especially if no one reminds you that you did. Replace “the guy” with “the donor” in this quote and you have a pretty good idea of how people think about your organization, at least initially:

Never assume that the guy understands that you and he have a relationship. The guy will not realize this on his own. You have to plant the idea in his brain by constantly making subtle references to it in your everyday conversation, such as:

— “Roger, would you mind passing me a Sweet ‘n’ Low, in as much as we have a relationship?”
— “Wake up, Roger! There’s a prowler in the den and we have a relationship! You and I do, I mean.”
— “Good News, Roger! The gynecologist says we’re going to have our fourth child, which will serve as yet another indication that we have a relationship!”
— “Roger, inasmuch as this plane is crashing and we probably have only about a minute to live, I want you to know that we’ve had a wonderful 53 years of marriage together, which clearly constitutes a relationship.”

Dave Barry, Dave Barry Complete Guide to Guys

You want to strike while the iron is hot – this person cares about your cause now. So you want to set up a welcome series for your donors online. There are some great guides on how to do this and I promise to write one in a future blog post. For now, here are some key tips:

  • Start with a thank you. This person is interested in your organization. They have given you their time and attention. They sound like a pretty cool person who is giving you a fairly valuable thing. This should be rewarded with good manners.
  • After that, if you have a key offer, lead with it. For some, you may be emailing them a temporary membership card. For others, it’s an opportunity to get involved with advocacy. Surveys are also good. Whatever people like to do with your organization online, use it to build their engagement and learn about them.
  • Yes, within the first 30 days. If they donated already, ask them to become a monthly sustainer. In fact, you may want to test whether a sustaining ask works better generally.
  • Test getting them into your mail, telemarketing, and other direct marketing channels. Just because someone started with your organization online doesn’t mean they don’t also have a mailbox and a phone.

This gap of time can be even acuter in the mail. At least with an online donation, you get (or really really should get) an immediate email receipt. With an initial offline gift, there’s the time that it takes the mail to get to the cager (or another person who will open it), the time to deposit the check, print the thank you, batch it, and send it, and the time it takes to get word back to that donor. That alone is pretty bad.

But what happens next is worse: nothing. Let’s say someone makes a donation on January 1st. They may not get into the data pull for a mail piece until March or April, depending on the lead times you have in printing. Picture making your donation, getting a thank you three weeks later, and then radio silence for months afterward. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for retaining that donor or striking while the iron is hot, no?

So instead, create a couple of mail packages that fill that gap that are sent automatically post the initial gift. The same principles apply here as online – things that help you and that your donors like are the perfect here: petitions, member cards, new supporter surveys, etc. You can expect these pieces not only to help your retention rate but also to provide some additional net revenue as well.

Onboarding for donors and supporters

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?