Friday, April 26, 2013

Extending Donor Retention 5.9 Million Years

I know it sounds like a ridiculous idea extending donor retention 5.93 million years, but that number comes from translating the number of hours to years that gamers have played World of War Craft, an online game. To put that number into some kind of perspective it was about that long ago when humans in the process of evolution began to walk upright. The game was developed in 2004. So as of now people have spent more time playing this game than humans have spent evolving.

There are some powerful lessons that we have the opportunity to learn on the topic of donor retention by studying the thoughtful and highly impactful design of online games. An important first item to recognize is that successful games are designed for the player to
achieve and accomplish. They are not designed so that the game is the ultimate recipient of the experience. You could easily draw a parallel to the games that we create regarding giving. The success for the annual fund is defined by the organization achieving its goal not the donor (player). The capital campaign is another similar experience for the donor (player) to concede that the experience is ultimately about the organization achieving its goal of building or adding to endowment.

A couple of things to note about the most addictive type of games;

1.     The most successful types of games have no pre-defined ending.

This is an interesting parallel to donor retention and understanding how to create a culture that designs the donor experience. To be able to customize a donor's connection where they give for the sake of giving and also accomplish a sense of personal growth, is at the root of building a culture that will create significant donor retention. Making sure that your organization is building competencies that understand life stages is crucial to be able to assess and put a number to lifetime donor value.

James Carse wrote an intriguing book titled Finite and Infinite Games. Finite games are played to be won and infinite games are played the sake of play. We could learn much from the idea of designing a donors experience to long-term personal growth while connecting their support to an evolving mission that is experienced through a community of like minded individuals
   2. Addictive videogames feed a need of making social connections

This is another area where the nonprofit community has such opportunity. It is the rare nonprofit that has one donor. Our donors create a community that we could leverage to ensure that our customers are experiencing being part of something bigger than themselves. Feeling part of something significant is a key element to increasing donor attention.

It would benefit every nonprofit professional interested in increasing donor attention to spend time understanding the design of games. Jane McGonigal's book reality is broken is a powerful roadmap to sustaining relationships with donors.

This game thinking will be covered in great at the Donor Retention BootCamp.


  1. I enjoyed your article.

    Jane's TED talk is a great introduction to her work: