3 Donor Retention Horror Stories That’ll Make You Cringe (Plus Fixes!)

You know the drill. Cue the (over) dramatic music, unexpected light flickering and blood-curdling screams. But despite the sometimes predictable plot lines, horror movies have a way of making our skin crawl. And that’s not the only thing.

As a nonprofit organization, donor retention horror stories exist that will make your skin crawl. Like most horror stories, they’re actually somewhat predictable—which means they’re also easily preventable. Read on to make sure that your organization never falls into the plot of these scary donor stories that are based on real events.

You Didn’t Notice I Stopped Donating

The Story: One donor made a $5,000 pledge to an organization, agreeing to pay $100 monthly installments. Those installments were taken directly out of the donor’s bank account.

Once the donation was pledged, the donor heard crickets chirping—not a single word from the organization. But this smart donor caught on and cancelled the monthly withdrawal from their account. Then, they proceeded to send in sporadic payments. Still nothing. Finally, the donor stopped paying. And to this day, they have not heard a word from the organization who apparently hasn’t even noticed that their contribution disappeared.

The Fix: Unfortunately for this organization (should they ever notice that the payments stopped) the relationship with the donor is too far gone. That is, if you could even call it a relationship in the first place.

What they should have done was continued to keep contact with the donor even after the pledge had been made. Saying ‘thanks’ once isn’t enough for a donor to feel like their contribution really mattered. Explain to the donor what those continued funds are being used for so that they’ll stay interested in the cause—long after they’ve made the pledge.

You Didn’t Ask, So I Didn’t Give

The Story: A man had been donating $500 per year to an organization that he loved. One day, it became public knowledge that the man was a billionaire. And when he passed away, he donated those billions of dollars to great organizations (many of which he had never donated to before).

Of that money he left behind, he didn’t make a single donation to the organization that he had been so loyal to all those years. Why? Because they didn’t ask. Even though they knew he was a billionaire, they didn’t feel the need to follow up with the donor.

The Fix: Could you imagine your organization missing out on a huge amount of money? It’s like you won the lottery, but lost the ticket. You had everything that you needed to secure the money but you threw it all away when you decided not to ask. This deserves a simple fix: don’t be afraid to ask for money. The worst that could happen is that they say no. And if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.

You Put Me in a Place That I Wasn’t Passionate About

The Story: One organization had a hardworking volunteer that was also a donor (what else could your organization want?!). This donor was generous with both their time and money. In fact, they were doing such a great job in their role that the organization decided to move them to a more important position, dealing with a different part of the nonprofit. Sounds like a great idea, right?

The only problem is that the valuable volunteer/donor had no interest in this new part of the organization. Very quickly, the organization lost out on an amazing volunteer AND donor because the donor no longer felt an emotional connection to the work. They lost that spark that’s so important to nonprofit organizations.

The Fix: Had the organization paid more attention to what the donor wanted, they would have been able to keep a considerable contribution. Never assume that you know what’s best for your donors and volunteers without asking them first. When the donor supplies the money, you need to make sure it’s being used for what the donor intended.

And although these stories make us cringe, the fixes are easy. Being aware of the mistakes that your organization could make with donor retention is the first step to making those fixes.

Now, we want to hear from you. Add your donor retention horror story in the comment section below.


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

August 8, 2013

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