The Mikuska Group  

It pays to keep your donors

We hear all the time from organizations about getting new donors. Yes, it’s important to bring new donors in, but it’s even more important to keep the donors you have.

The 2017 edition of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project results was recently published. Here are some of the sobering findings from 10,829 non-profit organizations:

  • Every $100 gained in 2016 was offset by $95 in losses.
  • Every 100 donors gained in 2016 was offset by 99 donors not giving again.
  • The greatest gains were in new donors.
  • The greatest losses were in new donors not giving again.
  • The average donor retention rate was 45%.
  • The average dollar retention rate was 48%.

(Gains are gifts by new donors + recaptured lapsed donors + increases in gift amounts. Losses are decreases in gift amounts + lost gifts by lapsed new and lapsed repeat donors.)

What does this tell us? Organizations do a poor job at keeping their donors, and as a result, they are continually chasing new donors, at great expense.

It’s much more cost-effective to keep the donors you have than to continually chase new donors.

The results vary by size of organization. Smaller organizations fare much poorly that larger organizations, which means resources dedicated to retaining donors make a difference.

The FEP site has tools to help you analyze your data so you can make decisions on where to put your time and money in keeping your donors engaged. It’s not just about the bottom line of how much comes in. You need to know who your donors are.

Don’t treat all your donors the same. Heap more love on your loyal donors and ask them to give more. But do make sure new donors know they are valued and welcome, and chances are some will give again and again.

Julie Mikuska.


When is it time to pack it in?

When is it time for an organization to hang up the cleats? Stop fighting the fight and dissolve or merge?

  • If the mission is no longer relevant i.e. the reasons for founding the organization have become obsolete.
  • If the organization’s mission is similar to others in the community.
  • If the funding has dried up, especially from governments, and there is no natural base of support i.e. donor or member relationships don’t exist or are few in number.
  • If opportunities for earned income are not viable e.g. sales, fees.
  • If the organization exists solely on projects and has no sustainable income.
  • If the mission is supported by only a handful of foundations.
  • If the volunteer base is aging and younger volunteers aren’t filling in, both in client service and on the board.
  • If the board is dysfunctional and relations with staff are sour.

Any one of these reasons may not be what makes an organization decide to dissolve or merge. But for some, it will be a combination.

The Manitoba Society of Seniors was founded in 1979 by volunteers who wanted to give seniors a voice. At the time, seniors needed advocacy around pensions, housing, services and recreation. MSOS also provided services at low or no cost (tax preparation, financial counselling, photocopying), operated bus tours and published the MSOS Journal. It ran the popular 55 Plus Games. Membership, at one time as high as 10,000, provided steady income, and numerous volunteers worked in the office, at the games and served on regional councils.

In 2011, MSOS closed its doors and ceased operations, citing declining membership and revenues. Other organizations work with government to advocate for seniors’ issues, and offer services once offered by MSOS, including the 55 Plus Games. They ceased to be relevant to enough people to support it either as volunteers or as members and donors. Baby Boomers don’t see themselves needing advocacy by a seniors group as they are used to going after and getting what they want.

Deciding to stop operating is not failure if it’s done thoughtfully. If, for example, the need for services still exists in the community but an organization is unable to deliver on its own, a merger with a similar organization can allow for the work to continue. Or any remaining funds at dissolution can be given to an organization with a compatible mission.

If you’re struggling, ask yourselves why. If the conditions aren’t right to go on, then stop.

Laura Mikuska


Navigating charity rules

You’re passionate about your mission and you’re operating as a registered charitable organization in Canada. In addition to fulfilling your mission (feeding kittens, housing street youth, saving the planet), you issue donation receipts, hold fundraising events, send direct mail appeals, send a call to action to your supporters to take the government to task for policies and laws you feel should be changed – the list goes on.

Do you know what a qualified donee is? Do you know the definition of a gift? Do you understand split-receipting? Can you define “advantage”? How does it affect your receipting? Do you know the definition of “political activity” and how much you can do? Are your by-laws up to date?

The rules around operating a charitable organization are vast and at times complex. But fear not, there are excellent resources available to help you navigate these particular waters:

  • Canada Revenue Agency’s Guidance Fundraising by Registered Charities – this is a must-read by the people in your organization who are fundraising.
  • Canadian Charity Legal Checklist – compiled by Mark Blumberg at An excellent overview of activities with links to more detailed information.
  • Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities and Giving website – detailed information and guidance on any topic you can imagine (including answers to the questions in paragraph #2!).

You’ll also need to consult with your legal counsel in the event of a complicated situation, for example, updating your by-laws, gift agreements and filing your charitable tax return.

It’s your responsibility to be in the know – ignorance is not a defence!

Laura Mikuska


There are no miracles…Squirrel!

If it sounds too good to be true, well, it probably is.

We learned this maxim early – our parents didn’t want us chasing after things that weren’t going to provide any reward, and worse, could get us into trouble. So why do so many nonprofit organizations chase after the squirrel that comes into their peripheral vision?

We see boards and staff who are presented with a “sure thing” – sell these books, gift cards, chocolates, cookie dough, tickets, etc. and you’ll get a cut of the profits. Their eyes glaze over when they think of all the money that’s going to roll in. And they buy it hook, line and sinker.

I worked for an organization that partnered with the local baseball team to sell season ticket and multi-game packages to its members, with the organization getting a cut. We were thrilled! Think of how this will raise our profile, we thought. Our members will jump all over this – everyone knows seniors love baseball! We jumped in and spent considerable time and effort to promote the opportunity. The result? Fewer than 10 of our over 10,000 members bought the package.

Another idea for a fundraising event that we adopted came from a corporation that insisted it was a “sure thing” and would bring us great amounts of money. The result, after again committing time, effort and funds, was $1,000.

Whew. We took a deep breath, got some advice and proceeded to run a campaign that connected with our members. We made them the hero and they came through to the tune of over $100,000. We changed to relationship fundraising, rather selling something. The result was they felt invested in the success of the organization.

Quit chasing squirrels and focus on your donor relationships. You’ll be a lot further ahead.

Laura Mikuska


A foray into social enterprise

A new social enterprise popped up in the West Broadway area recently. forRaY, Second Chance Shoppe was opened by Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY) to provide a supported retail training program for marginalized youth as well as offer affordable, high-quality household goods for the neighbourhood.

What is social enterprise? According to Social Enterprise Canada:

In Canada we see a prevalence for defining social enterprise as a business operated by a non-profit entity. As a business they have to have a product or service they sell to customers, they also have to have a defined social, cultural or environmental value. In the Canadian legal context, mission “related” businesses are allowed for non-profits and charities.” – See more here.*

According to Kelly Holmes, Executive Director at RaY, the Shoppe is designed to give youth with little education or workplace skills a chance at gaining these skills with a goal land a permanent job. RaY has been helping youth for over 20 years, and this is a further extension of other employment initiatives that give their clients the chance to become independent.

If you’re looking to clean out your cupboards and get rid of some good-quality used furniture and household goods, give forRaY a call (Kerri @ 204-783-5617 ext 202). They’ll put everything to good use. And if you’re in the market for some great finds at bargain prices, visit them at 195 Young Street at Broadway.

RaY also has a long-term goal for the enterprise to become self-sustaining and eventually contribute to the long-term sustainability of the organization. Many organizations are exploring this type of revenue source as governments shelve programs to assist nonprofits. Entire communities often contribute and eventually benefit from supporting these enterprises, which in turn contributes to making the community a stronger and more vibrant place to live. A win-win in anyone’s view!

There are many examples of social enterprise in Manitoba, and I encourage you to support them. Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the Festival du Voyageur, Diversity Foods and the St. Norbert Farmer’s Market are but a few examples. I’m certain that you’ve already been a customer, without even knowing you’re contributing to your community!

Laura Mikuska

*Charities are allowed to operated a Related Business under Canada Revenue Agency Guidelines.


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