It was a well-known speaker in the fundraising industry -- someone you've heard of -- speaking at a large and well-attended conference last week.
The speaker's assertion: Donor retention has got so bad, we should just stop acquiring new donors and focus all our energy on retention.
A few people sitting near me rolled their eyes. Others around the room furiously scribbled notes. I hope they were writing "Just shoot me now." But I'm afraid not.
I wouldn't really bother bringing it up if it were just one bone-headed idea from one industry expert who hasn't done their homework. But I keep encountering this Stop Acquiring New Donors Meme. People are saying that all over the place. I wonder how many fundraisers have actually taken this horrific bit of advice.
Stopping your flow of new donors is probably the most self-destructive act you could make. The insidious thing about it is that it would seem like a good move at first: Most new-donor activities operate at or near a net-revenue loss. So for a while, you'd likely improve your bottom line. For a while. Mean time, you continue to lose donors without replacing them. The loss of the new blood will hurt next year -- and for the next five to ten years, in the form of revenue you'll never get. Even if you wise up and turn the new-donor program back on, you'll suffer from the time you spent not getting donors. It's a loss you will never recoup, and you'll only recover from slowly.
Donor retention is bad. It's a huge problem for almost everyone. It's worse than it used to be. You should be all over improving your donor retention.
But you're not going to solve it by stopping acquisition.
Stopping acquisition to fight the retention problem is like combating air pollution by locking yourself in a vacuum chamber with no air at all. Yeah, the air pollution would stop being a problem. But you've just replaced it with a very much more serious problem.
Next time you read or hear the Stop Acquiring New Donors Meme, join the group who just roll their eyes and move on. Frankly, if others stop acquiring, it only helps those of us who keep it going.
Just don't let your organization be one of those that let an ill-considered, half-baked idea kill their fundraising program.