New Data Suggests We've Been Wrong About Giving Days

Different objectives between foundation and grantee

If we’re lucky, our grantees and the nonprofits in our communities who participate in our giving days start planning two, maybe three weeks out.  There are exceptions, for sure, but let’s be clear, we’re doing an incredible amount of work to pull off this no-so-small venture in catalyzing community-wide philanthropy. The vendors chosen to provide the technology to make the day work are helpful. They get participants to “ready, tech, go,” so each has an opportunity to place their best fundraising foot forward. But from the perspective of what you’re ultimately trying to accomplish, it’s fleeting. 

We’re trying to hand nonprofits new donors to thank, engage, inspire, and renew (if not upgrade in a future campaign).  Many nonprofits look to your giving day as a “chance lottery” – they’ll get some cash, and if they’re lucky, a lot. 

As such, our objectives may be different from those of many participating nonprofits.  While certainly not ideal, it generally still works.  To best help these organizations, it’s time we talk about expectations for “giving day after,” a phenomenon that plays out more overtly during calendar year-end giving.

Parallels with calendar year-end giving

Whenever the calendar turns to a new year, fundraisers in the United States breathe a collective but short-lived sigh of relief, having closed another calendar or fiscal year. In most all cases, that year culminated with a December fundraising sprint that ostensibly began on #GivingTuesday. Then, after just enough time away from the office to recuperate, reinvigorated fundraisers look to their next twelve months to reset, recommit to the creative solutions perhaps thwarted by time and budget constraints, and resolve to do things better than they had before.

At the same time of the fundraiser's “Great Introspection,” the consultants, professional associations, vendors, and software companies, who comprise the other part of our sector, offer up a timely stream of content to help nonprofits retain donors, beginning with the ones just acquired. While no one can deny the value of the ideas they bring to a fundraiser, there’s new data to suggest it may not be helping them (or the sector) – and we all may be approaching donor retention in the wrong way.  

Since the inception of fundraising as a professional discipline, as a sector, we have generally relied on the same strategies and tactics to retain donors, and we’re failing. Beginning with a timely acknowledgement letter, followed by a newsletter or two, maybe an annual report, or an invitation to a donor recognition event, we have relegated our construct of donor retention to a hope that, though some unknown combination of the preceding tactics, donors notice, value, and will later reward our perfunctory gratitude. Without doubt, the gestures are noticed, important, and even appreciated, but they are no longer sufficient. Nor are they predictive of donor retention.

Bringing renewed meaning to what “relationship” really means

Nonprofit organizations in the United States are now being challenged by major political, demographic, economic, and technological factors outside of their control. Consequently, most allocate their scarce resources to optimize, and even initiate for the first time, dated and generally ineffective approaches to donor retention. What’s more, these staid tactics are perpetuated because fundraisers lack the tools to move beyond calculating their donor retention rate to analyze, in real-time, the efficacy of what they are doing and why.   

In a time where companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix have forever changed consumer behavior, nonprofits must immediately adapt to retain donors and arguably, to even be relevant. Given social media, text messages, email, and websites are the most prevalent ways people access and receive information, and thoughtfully curate their preferences around channel and frequency of this content, nonprofits must do the same. We must personalize the experience and content for each donor, prospect, volunteer, and event attendee in a way that creates a narrative – for every level of giving – that comes from communicating the programmatic outcomes that are financed by philanthropy. 

Gratitude and recognition can no longer adequately retain donors, let alone the expression of financial need or another fundraising goal. Instead, the consistent and integrated delivery of program-based content, through all relevant channels, that describes the impact a nonprofit has on its community and service population will. It’s what donors now demand from the organizations they support.

Giving day-after is the lens through which success should be measured

So, to retain donors, we need grantees to embrace and invest in technology that transcends donor management so they can create the types of digital relationships that consumers, who are also our donors, now expect from any organization that wants their attention long enough to buy a product, and buy more over time. The same is true of philanthropy, and it is certainly what’s required to sustain the creative and tactical energy in the run up to your giving day, beginning the day after.

What do you think (and need), though?

Let’s start a conversation about what we as grantmakers should or can do to expand the construct of our giving days.

To get an advance copy of the study Network for Good will release on March 1, tell us where to send the pre-release version.

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