The next big thing in fundraising: how good we make people feel

By Beth Hammock

How do donors feel after they give to your organization? Take a good look, because your bottom line depends on it, says Dr. Adrian Sargeant,  professor of philanthropy at Plymouth University in the UK. 

Sargeant spoke to a packed house at Avila University's Inspired Fundraising Summit in Kansas City on Sept. 30.  He provided some startling statistics about donor retention. A survey of five million donors found four-point-two years is the average length of donor retention. 

"Not only do we have an issue with donor retention, it’s getting worse" Sargeant said in his dramatic way. "Our focus needs to shift on how we make donors feel when we communicate with them. That’s going to be the next big thing in fundraising. How strongly committed do they feel to our organization? We have to find other ways to engage people with the organization so they have a burning passion for us."

In recent months, I've been delighted to see results of donor relations activities I was involved in at University of Missouri and University of Montana Foundation. I will share the examples with you over the next few days. First, a mega gift at Mizzou.

Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield made a $10 million lead gift for a proposed new School of Music building in April. Jeanne is a musician who wants Missouri to be a mecca for new music. She began testing the waters at Mizzou in 2009 by making a $1 million gift to start a new music competition. At that time I was director of development communications at Mizzou. We pulled together a team to celebrate the Sinquefield's generous gift. The fanfare included a gift announcement, reception, and extensive media coverage. We put together a video of the gift announcement. Watch it to see how much this meant to Jeanne and the university.

Our team continued to recognize the Sinquefields and build trust. Jeanne was on the For All We Call Mizzou campaign committee, the volunteer group that led the university's first $1 billion campaign. At one campaign committee meeting, the evening's entertainment included a trip to the Sinquefields' stunning home in Westphalia, Missouri. This is a good 90 minutes from the university. We drove the volunteers to this remote location in buses. When they arrived, they were treated to a private performance by the University Choir. The Sinquefields loved hosting their fellow volunteers and sharing their love of music.

Mizzou's relationship with the Sinquefields is a perfect example of donor-centric development. Jeanne wanted to start the New Music program. The university listened and she stepped up her giving. The Sinquefields gave another $1.4 million for new music in 2013. Again the university celebrated their generosity in many ways. Then came the largest gift to the arts ever in University of Missouri history: the $10 million lead gift for a School of Music building.

 The Mizzou New Music Ensemble is made up of seven graduate students. They perform music composed by faculty and students around the region.    

The Mizzou New Music Ensemble is made up of seven graduate students. They perform music composed by faculty and students around the region. 


What can you do to let your most generous donors know how much you appreciate them? Do you listen to what they are passionate about, then connect them with an opportunity to support it? People love to give. And they love to be thanked and recognized. I would love to hear your stories of the impact of thoughtful donor relations and communications.

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