Cover Story: Ask & Receive
All donors are not created equal. As in the for-profit world, the most financially valuable individuals are the ones who undertake long-term relationships with an organization-those who embrace a nonprofit's mission and make donations again and again. In a perfect world, fundraisers would be able to discern these individuals from the 70 percent of newly acquired donors whose first gifts are also their last, and invest in them accordingly.
But, barring the invention of a working crystal ball, the best nonprofits can do is put new donors to the test before their interest in the cause wanes. At least, that's the strategy that works for Maryland Food Bank, an America's Second Harvest affiliate that distributes food to more than 1,000 shelters, soup kitchens, pantries and other charitable organizations around the state of Maryland.
According to Deborah Flateman, Maryland Food Bank's chief executive officer, implementing a more ambitious schedule of new donor solicitations-one that asks for that elusive second gift shortly after the first gift is made-has boosted new donor retention rates. "We have established a different type of relationship with donors," she says. "We're finding out how close they are to our mission and how responsive they are to our requests."
Room for Improvement
Founded in 1979, Maryland Food Bank boasts a diverse and enthusiastic donor base. "There really isn't a typical donor," says Flateman. "The issue of hunger is something that resonates with pretty much everybody."
Since the introduction of its direct mail fundraising program in 1997, Maryland Food Bank's new donor retention rates have varied from the high 30 percents to the low 40 percents, a range that exceeds industry standards. "If you get a third of your donors to make that second gift, it's considered good," says Kent Rohrbach, vice president of client services for L.W. Robbins Associates, the agency that manages Maryland Food Bank's direct mail program.