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Three Things You Should STOP Doing

by Stephen Godbout

Prepare to be challenged.  As promised, here’s a quick look at the keynote address given by Tom Gaffny at the DMAW’s DM201 event.

Tom opened his remarks by pointing out that donors today are suffering from “B.D.S.” Battered Donor Syndrome. Resulting from a bombardment of marketing messages and over-zealous competition for their support.

So how do you help your donors recover from B.D.S.?

1)      STOP:  Thinking you own the donor.

Our industry language suggests we “acquire,” “recapture,”, and “convert” donors. If you were walking down the street and someone tried to acquire, capture or convert you, would you stick around?

Of course, not. You don’t own your donor.

Your donors have much more control than you over whether or not and how they choose to have a relationship with you and at what level. Make having a relationship with your organization valuable to your donors.

Treat your donors as people. Remember the golden rule; “People Give to People.” And don’t always think, “What can I get from my donor?” Think about ways you can show you value your donor.

Two simple ways to do this are:

  • Putting multiple stamps on the reply envelope—saving your donors money with something more personal than a business reply barcode.
  • Focusing your letters on the donor’s actions rather your organizations’—making them feel like an integral part of your mission.

2)      STOP: One dimensional donor ranking.

Most of us segment our donors based on their monetary values to our organization.

But do you know how your donor ranks you among their giving priorities?

Invest in finding out how much your donor cares about your organization and the work you’re doing. Are you just one of many organizations your donor supports or are you among a select few?

Identify the people who really matter. Engage those donors with a more “donor-centric” approach, and commit to nurturing relationships with those donors.

Ideally, you want to find donors that rank high on an emotional pyramid and incorporate them into your package testing and campaign mix.  Monitor how that segment performs, and you’ll likely find hidden treasure.

3)      STOP: Focusing solely on acquisition to grow your file.

As Tom pointed out, “We may be the only industry in the world that doesn’t view retention as the key to growth.”

No business would think to work constantly on getting new customers at the expense of the ones they already have.  To grow your program, Tom recommends shifting your focus to “donor-centric” retention. Get to know who your best supporters are and treat them like royalty.  Engage them through their interests, their needs, their values.

Anything you can do to let your donors know you care about and value them will make for donors who want to remain committed to your organization.

Here’s an excellent example of donor-centric retention:

Following the Boston Marathon bombing, Food for the Poor contacted donors who live in the Boston area just to see if they were alright.  Using a phone call and a follow-up card in the mail, the organization contacted thousands of donors to let them know they matter … and earned some lifelong donors in the process.

We call this “cultivation.” We should call it “commonsense.”

Historically as an industry, we tend not to think along the lines of sending “no strings attached” communications to our donors.

Tom suggests we need to shift our priorities to balance in optimizing relationships with costs concerns, which requires “no strings attached” cultivation. This in turn, helps deepen the bond your donors have to your organization, making them monetarily more valuable long-term.


Stephen Godbout is a freelance copywriter with thirteen years direct marketing experience.  He can be reached at