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Building The Pipeline

By October 13, 2009March 30th, 2014Communication, Fundraising

What DOES “building the pipeline” really mean? It means knowing and getting known by enough people to support the work of your organization with their time, advice, tangible goods or financial support.

I recently spoke on a panel about this topic and was surprised to find organizations having 2000, 5000 and even 8000 active donors were very concerned about the pipeline but they couldn’t tell me their donor retention rate or the names of their top 20 donors.

If you have a pipeline issue, you have a communication issue.

While acquisition is important to focus on the reality is you simply may not be paying enough attention to your current donors.

First note your retention rate. Figuring out your retention rate is pretty simple: Count the number of donors you have in a 12-month period of time. Then count the number of donors you have in the prior 12-month period and compare. If you have 6000 donors giving in the prior 12-months and you have 3000 now your overall retention rate is 50%.

You may also want to identify your retention rate in three separate donor segments:

  • Donors who have given for multiple-years.
    (Generally higher retention rates.)
  • New, or first-year donors.
    (Generally 40% lower than multi-year donors.)
  • Reactivated donors.  
    (Somewhere in between 1st time or multi-year donors.)

Once you know the retention rate in these donor segments you can start to focus your time and your messages.

Tips for maintaining a healthy pipeline AND retaining current donors:

  1. Share what you need the money for. How many of your current donors & volunteers understand clearly what it is you need to raise money for? Do you share the cost of your programs for one week for one child or one adult? A donor recently told me, “If the organizations I support were not just saying they need money but they tell me why and what impact that money will have, I may give even more.”
  2. Personally contact as many multiple-year donors each year as possible. Utilize board members and community volunteers to help you. Contacts can be thank you calls, invitation calls or simply a “getting to know more about you” call or meeting.
  3. Meaningful acknowledgement can have a huge impact on your pipeline. That means timely meaningful thank you letters. I also suggest thank you calls to donors made by both staff or board members.
  4. Invitations to events should say more than “Join us!” Give a compelling reason for guests to attend and remind them of the need in your community.
    A great example of compelling copy on an invitation:
    One in three homeless men in Cleveland is a veteran.
    We think ONE is too many.
  5. At events be sure to share about any gap in your current funding along with a compelling story about how amazing your programs are. If you only show all the “good work” and positive outcomes donors don’t see a place for themselves.

Regular communication ALL YEAR LONG that is compelling and shows your impact can have huge value in both retaining and generating new donors.

Even a small increase in your donor retention can generate greater dollars raised over time. Adrian Sargeant, Ph.D., from the Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy says:

“A 10% increase in donor retention can increase the lifetime value of the donor database up to 200%. When people stay around they do things like upgrade their gifts, [give more often], contribute to galas and even volunteer.”

This is the time of year when a little extra attention may make the difference between a contribution or none. Go ahead: Take the time to personally connect with donors and prospects TODAY.


  • Pat Miller says:

    The well defined goal and clear message is indeed critical to the success of your fundraising. Communicating that ideal throughout all the mediums strengthens your brand and continually reinforces your message. For example, a video that has the goal of explaining what you do, while touching your audience on several levels, helps promote the work and caring you have for your mission.

  • Thanks Lori for your “with” isms, they refresh things I know and new ideas to include in my asks and thank you’s

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