Ethical Acts that Increase Donor Retention | npENGAGE

Ethical Acts that Increase Donor Retention

By on Nov 7, 2017


Example of how ethics in fundraising improve donor retention

For many fundraising professionals, the “people give to people, not organizations” concept is the foundation of their careers. Creating an impactful mission to strengthen the community isn’t the only influential piece of a fundraising plan. Respecting your donors and treating them as unique individuals assist in your success. Donors have rights, and these rights play a key role in your daily thoughts, actions and activities. The Association of Fundraising Professionals created a Donor Bill of Rights and Code of Ethical Standards that your staff and board members should review during their respective orientations.

Frequent, ethical and insightful communication supports your organization’s implementation of the Donor Bill of Rights. Positive interactions will always influence your relationships, but transparency will help grow and strengthen your donors’ trust in you.

Consider these tips to increase donor retention:

Annual Information: Sharing your annual report—via your website, for example—demonstrates commitment to your mission, increasing donor trust. Publicizing this information also validates your community impact. The National Council of Nonprofits has identified 10 additional ways nonprofits can develop financial transparency and accountability. These guidelines will help your organization increase donor trust and create a positive culture.

Donor Solicitation: Each solicitation should align with the donor’s interests. Supply donors with the most recent version of your mission and updated material(s). Staff should provide ethical advice and properly guide them through the cultivation process. Donors have the right to ask questions and expect to receive honest answers. They can also choose when and how often they want to be solicited by adding or removing themselves from mailing lists.

Donor Information: Donor information must stay confidential and with the chosen organization. If a staff member leaves the organization, he or she should not be permitted to take any information with them. Your donors trust you, and you must honor their privacy.

Donor Intent: Fulfilling donor given restrictions is imperative. There are many different requests that can be connected to a gift, including:

  • Designation: Donors often choose the program they want to fund, depending on their passion and/or areas of a campaign that need support. When a donor restricts a gift, your organization must ensure the money is used appropriately. Redirecting the funds to another effort is unethical and will ruin your relationship with the donor.
  • Recognition: Donors choose how they are recognized and/or if they want recognition. Some donors choose to publish their name or business name, while others want to be anonymous. Always inquire as to how they want to be recognized and implement that request. Anonymous donors have many concerns, including organizations selling their information. Always respect donors’ requests to protect your bond.
  • Matching: Donors can receive matching gift privileges from current or past employers. Take the time to apply for these extra funds. Failing to complete the form is a missed opportunity and will decrease trust.
  • Pro Tip: Create a gift acceptance policy to manage donations. This allows staff and board members to honor donor expectations with a seamless process. The Council of Nonprofits has created guidelines to develop a gift acceptance policy.

Donor Communication & Respect: Donors have the right to be briefed on current staff responsibilities and goals. Communicate and listen to what your donors say. Donors who feel ignored won’t be donors for long. Ask their opinions, listen to their suggestions, and always follow up. When a donor approaches you with an idea, listen and ask questions. If it can be accommodated, let them know when it’s put into effect. However, if it is not actionable, follow up with a timely explanation. Understand what the donor wants, learn what their expectations are, and communicate regularly. Donor engagement reflects your ability to listen to their wants, needs and suggestions.

Staff Acknowledgement: Fundraising staff will develop close relationships with donors and board members. Remember that staff should not be compensated on commission-based incentives, no matter their relationship with the donor. Performance-based compensation however, is permitted in the form of a bonus or pay increase.

Transparency is incredibly important to build trust and sustain donor retention. Respect donors as individuals, treat them as you would want to be treated, and act ethically. Each donor is different, so enjoy learning about them and their passions.

Additional Tools:


Tanya Fitzgerald is a senior marketing manager at Blackbaud, previously having served as a customer success manager for Blackbaud Arts & Cultural Solutions. Prior to joining Blackbaud, she was the Board & Special Projects Manager for the South Carolina Aquarium focusing on major gifts and fundraising events while managing the Board of Directors and junior board. Previously, Tanya was involved with Louie’s Kids for six years, a non-profit that focuses on childhood obesity and family wellness, as a board member and volunteer managing their fundraising efforts. Currently, she is involved with the Charleston Animal Society’s fundraising events and is a member of their Board of Directors philanthropy committee. Tanya enjoys giving back and sharing her non-profit knowledge helping our customers succeed.

Comments (5)

  • Michael Rosen says:

    Tanya, thank you for your post underscoring the importance of ethics in the fundraising process. For development efforts to be effective, the public must trust the organization asking for support. Research reveals that the more trust one has in a charity, the more likely s/he is to support the charity and the larger the gift is likely to be. Solid ethical conduct is one powerful way to build trust.

    Now, here’s my favorite quote related to ethics:

    “Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” — Mark Twain

    • Tanya Fitzgerald says:

      Thank you for your comment and I love that quote! Its one to live by. Good luck on your end of year giving.

  • Greg Vranicar says:

    Thanks so much for your focus on ethics as a springboard to success in fund-raising. Your references are exceptional and provide worthy reading for anybody who wants to have a successful career in the field.
    I practiced law/litigation for just short of 20 years and then switched to charitable planned giving for slightly longer, primarily for the Catholic Church. We all know the ethical challenges in both of these fields. But as you’ve pointed out, exemplary ethical behavior will be rewarded richly. Keep up the perceptive work that you’ve evidenced in this piece and you’ll be a great credit to our profession!

    • Tanya Fitzgerald says:

      Hi Greg-Thank you for the kind words and I am glad that you enjoyed the article. Good luck on your goals for this year!

  • Karen says:

    Thank you , Tonya, for sharing these resources. We are updating our policies and the sites you have referred to above are quite beneficial/

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