You worked hard to find donors. Now don’t lose them!

We’re 10 days into the new year, which means it’s a great time for some of us to reflect on our organizations’ year-end fundraising efforts, our personal giving decisions, or both. Here’s a report (a PDF) from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project that affirms:

  • Nonprofits of every size and description make a special effort to identify supporters and secure additional support in the closing weeks, days, and even hours of the year. (Network for Good has an entire year-end fundraising guide if you’re already looking ahead to 2012 holiday season.)
  • Sadly, a large number of those donors won’t be found in the roster of supporters during the following year.
  • And, if you look closely, there’s an amazing range from the most to the least successful organizations when it comes to maintaining a strong group of supporters who renew their gifts year after year.

Finding new donors is much more difficult (and expensive) than staying in touch with people who already know about the organization and have shown their interest through making a donation. So why do so many organizations spend so much time trying to reach new donors, rather than building relationships with the old ones?

Why don’t donors continue to give?

Of course, there are some perfectly good reasons why a donor might give once and never again – such as gifts that celebrate a milestone or great accomplishment, or a memorial gift that honors a person who has passed on.

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Beth Kanter posted this photo to Flickr with a thank you note and update to donors after her campaign raised money for students in Cambodia. (Photo: cambodia4kidsorg / Creative Commons)

But the most common reason donors offer for not continuing to support an organization is lack of information about what has been accomplished with the money given so far before there’s a request for more. Finding out what donors want to know and making sure to tell them during the year is just as important—maybe even more important—than getting the year-end appeal in the mail on time.

What savvy development professionals can do

Looking ahead to the 2012 fundraising program, you’re probably already thinking about your communications with donors and prospective donors. How will you tell them—clearly, accurately, and persuasively—what the work they have supported is accomplishing and how important this support is to the morale of the people who do it? The books listed toward the end of the 2011 Donor Retention Supplement (the first link on that page) are full of ideas on how to do this well.

What savvy donors can do

If you’re looking ahead to the contributions you might make in 2012, consider your own priorities. What kind of community do you want to live in? What kind of world do you hope to see? Then find out which organizations are most likely to bring those visions to life.

If you have lingering questions about organizations you’ve supported in the past, you’ll do them a favor by asking. The request doesn’t need to be a demand, and the response doesn’t need to be a burden. If you can spark better communication between an organization and the donors who support it, that will be good for organization and donor alike.

How do you plan to communicate with your supporters (or learn more about the organizations you support) this year?

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We're hiring a Director of Development!

Update, 11.23.11: We have removed the listing because the application deadline has passed. Thank you very much to everyone who took the time to apply.

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Our 2011 staff retreat. Will you be in the 2012 photo?

Idealist is searching for a Director of Development to be based in our New York City office. The application deadline is November 21. If you are excited about this possibility, or know someone who would be, please check out the job listing and feel free to spread the word. Thanks!

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Idea File: No internet? Just call Question Box

A stripped down version of the internet (read: no Facebook or YouTube) is now available in some developing areas.

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What causes rotting of cassava roots? Why are my tomato leaves turning white? Can a mother with HIV pass it on to her baby? How can we control soil erosion in our village?

These questions and more can now be easily answered in Uganda through Question Box, a project of the nonprofit Open Mind that aims to make Internet access in developing countries as common as soccer.

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In Pune, the team recently created a Question Box with solar panels. They're also about to launch a box that can reach multiple information lines (e.g. the hospital, government, etc.). Photo via blogger Paul Smith (bitter wallet).

Here’s how it works: the curious call a given number. At the receiving end, operators search online and answer the caller’s question in one of Uganda’s 14 national languages or regional dialects. If the internet or power is out, operators can browse an offline repository of local knowledge to pass on the needed information.

In Pune, India where Question Box is currently being piloted, this idea of a box is taken in the most literal sense. All locals need to do is push a green button on a metal box hanging somewhere in the streets, and are connected to an operator faster than you can say namaste.

Both the Indian and Uganda models are all about ease: “Any solution must require the person to take no more than one step from what they already know.”

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Circumvents the limitations of the web. If you’re like me and speak one of the top ten languages on the internet, then you probably take for granted that we have access to an incredible wealth of information with just one click. But the world has 1,000+ languages, and Google is available in “nearly 40″ of them.
  • Gives most everyone access. Reaches people on the margins: the illiterate, women who are excluded from communication, the visually impaired, and those who are too poor to even have a mobile phone.
  • Provides employment. Operators have the opportunity to use their language skills, and make some money while they’re at it.
  • Utilizes local knowledge. In many villages, knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, or neighbor to neighbor. Question Box not only places values on its importance, but helps capture it for future use.

How you can replicate it

Luckily for you, the folks at Question Box want you to take their idea and run with it. Here’s how:

  • Organizations, government or companies: If you want to set up your own, on their website right now is a friendly invitation for you to partner with them. They’ll adapt the hotline to your needs, and help you get it going.
  • Community organizations: Indigo Trust recently gave Question Box a grant to complete development of Open Question, an initiative that combines open source tools and how-to manuals so that anyone anywhere can set a hotline up themselves. They’re currently looking for testers.

Could you see Question Box working in your community or another you’ve adopted? Why or why not?

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