Nonprofit Administration Errors That Send Donors Running

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

Donor retention is one measurement of a strong development program- perhaps one of the best indicators of a nonprofit’s success in fundraising. But, if you think it is only the development department’s duty to focus on retention, you’re wrong. Much of development is actually driven by administration- think data, bookkeeping, and infrastructure. Small administrative mistakes can send donors running for the hills. Is your nonprofit making any of these errors and turning away donors?

Mistake 1: Not knowing exactly where donor funds are going
Impact metrics are all the buzz these days. So, what are you waiting for? Administrative staff should be pulling data that indicates how funds were used and all staff should be armed with the percentage of donor funds that goes towards programs vs. fundraising vs. administration. Better yet, plaster it on your website and social media. Kudos to nonprofits that can link donor funds to true impact, not just activities.

Mistake #2: Misspelling a donor’s name
This one is a doozy and so easy to prevent. There is nothing worse than proudly donating your hard-earned money only to have your name misspelled on the acknowledgement letter or, even worse, on the nonprofit’s website. Trust me, I know how much this sucks- just check out my last name. It may seem like a trivial issue, but names are important (duh- that’s why so many people donate oodles of cash to get their names on libraries or lecture halls). This mistake sends the powerful message to your donors that you don’t care about them or their gift. That is the exact opposite of what your donor communications should say! Double- nay, quadruple- check your data entry.

Mistake #3: Making it difficult to give
You’ve heard this before and yet a surprising number of nonprofits still have really frustrating procedures that make it difficult for donors to give. Eliminate all barriers to getting a donation- even if that means collecting less donor information. I say this because several nonprofits I have made donations to ask for my life’s history before I can make my donation. No one wants to fill out a two-page form just to donate $20. Get the donation and then ask donors additional questions. Extra communication with donors is always a good thing and this gives you a reason to reach out. Further, donors should not have to dig through a website to find the donation page- make it readily accessible from your home page. Along the same line, have credit card readers at ALL of your events- even if you are simply manning an exhibit table. You never know when someone will be inclined to make a donation so be prepared. In other words, do everything in your power to make it as easy as possible for a donor to give the instant they decide to make a donation. Nonprofit administration can research new products, update infrastructure and link accounts as necessary to aid in this process.

Nonprofit administrative staff play an important role in the development process. If you work in administration, take note of the downstream impacts of your work. How can you improve administrative processes so that donors give again and give more? If you work in development, what do you need from administration to retain donors?

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