Your Fundraising Decision Making Yardstick: Recruit-Retain-Reactivate

I don’t know about you, but I like to be the “fun” friend on Facebook. I seldom post pictures of what I eat (my morning bowl of Cheerios is just not that exciting), but will regale you with photos of the latest hike, road trip or crazy activity I participated in. “You have so many exciting adventures” are the words “Fun Pamela” strives for in response to my Facebook posts.

As a fundraiser, it’s easy to be envious of the colleague from another organization who gets to be “Fun Fundraiser,” dabbling in—or spending all day perfecting—the innovative side of fundraising. They’re posting selfie videos from “the scene” showing how their nonprofit is doing great work. They regularly tell a thrilling story of what their organization has accomplished—and they do it in 140 characters or less. They’re sharing updates on Facebook and photos on Instagram, and are early adopters for any new idea that comes along.

Meanwhile, I plug away on direct mail, newsletters, case statements and proposals, with an occasional eAppeal or eNewsletter…or even a blog post.

I love social media, and I greatly admire the nonprofit organizations that are doing a great job using it to tell their story. I read about their campaigns that generate a zillion new followers and I am excited for them—and for the possibilities this may portend for the future.

But I can’t forget the bottom line: I am a fundraiser, and I must raise funds. I succeed when an organization has the money it needs to succeed in fulfilling its mission. 

If someone were to tell me that they had a 100 to 1 return on investment in their fundraising program, I would be impressed. But if I learned that they had only raised $100, my envy would quickly fade. By the same token, I might experience some social media jealousy over the nonprofit that has 100,000 followers on Twitter—unless all those followers had been gained at the expense of raising money that would allow the organization to really have an impact.

If we have a dual quest to be a great fundraiser and a social media expert, we can become consumed with “doing” and lose sight of what fundraising is all about. We may find ourselves frenetically moving from activity to activity in search of fundraising nirvana, worrying that we have overlooked the one thing that is essential for fundraising success.

Rather than trying to do it all, fundraisers need to do the right things to achieve three goals: 

  1. Recruit new donors.
  2. Retain existing donors.
  3. Reactivate lapsed donors.

OK — nothing too earth-shattering there. Except too often, we become enamored with things that aren’t contributing to one of those three goals. “Recruit–Retain–Reactivate” must be the yardstick by which we measure our decisions. When time or money is in short supply and we have to make choices, this measurement can help us put our efforts into the right things that will result in funds for program and overhead.

A wise fundraiser invests the majority of the fundraising budget in programs that are raising the majority of the income.

Yes, even those not-very-sexy ones that just keep plugging along like the Energizer Bunny. When these are consistently raising income, we can then add in (not substitute) some new programs, as long as we believe that they can contribute to our Recruit–Retain–Reactivate measuring stick. We may not have instant gratification, but we ought to have a reasonable conviction that these fledging programs are harbingers to future fundraising growth.

As fundraisers, we should never grow stale and stop trying new things. But with that comes a responsibility to keep focused on our Recruit–Retain–Reactivate fundraising measurement. Our organization’s survival depends on our success in raising funds—even if we can’t always be the most fun person in the room.