Once the step child of fundraising, it seems that everyone these days is talking about donor retention. It really is a no brainer when you look at the numbers (mainly breaking even on donor acquisition and the never-ending hamster wheel you get on when all you’re doing is finding a fresh batch of donors each year).
I have to smile (or is it more of a grimace?) when someone from the business world (and not familiar with professional fund development) wants to talk about their version of sustainability for a nonprofit. In their minds every nonprofit should start a business and have income from that business used to run the operation of the nonprofit. Sure there are a few nonprofits that will make sense for – if we find a business that is complimentary to the mission of the organization. But when we look at success rates of small business (50% reach the 4 year mark and just 35% survive to 10) combined with mission drift of trying to run a for profit business in addition to their day job, it doesn’t seem manageable to me.
In my mind, sustainability comes from finding people who are committed to the cause you are accomplishing in the community, inviting them into the family, making them feel like they are a part of the family (through regular communication and interactions) and ultimately becoming one of their favorite charities. The churn and burn approach to donor development is the precise opposite of this.
Let’s each commit to finding ways we can invite donors into the fold – and to ways we can let people know what fundraising is REALLY about – relationships.