Play attention to your lapsed donor

What do you do to renew a lapsed donor? green circle with sad face on tree

I decided not to renew my membership in the Association of Fundraising Professionals. My membership ended in December 2022.

I would have marked 35 years as a loyal member this year.

What did AFP do about my nonrenewal? Not much.  I’ll get to that story in a moment.

Why I joined AFP

As my consulting practice has evolved over the years, the amount of fundraising consultation has diminished substantially. So in looking at that $350 a year price tag (two, as Jon and I are both members), I had to ask myself if my AFP membership was still worth it.

When I joined AFP back in 1988 (it was NSFRE then), I was Director of Development and Communications at PLAN USA (which back then was called Foster Parents Plan). My fundraising focus was national and all direct response. I attended my first local AFP conference because there was a session on planned giving which I was interested in formalizing for PLAN (we received unsolicited bequests virtually every year, but had no formal marketing program. The ins and outs of planned gifts were beyond my expertise),

While attending that first conference, I realized that the language of traditional fundraisers was so different from my direct marketing schooling. Annual fund? What’s that? I just raised money all year round. I didn’t have experience in face-to-face fundraising and was just getting proposal writing under my belt. So there was a lot for me to learn.

How I benefited from my AFP membership

And I learned a lot. When I moved from Plan to Save The Bay,  I needed to learn all about special events, and corporate giving.

I found a wonderfully supportive network among my local colleagues, many of whom are now dear friends. The late Simone Joyaux invited me into volunteering for the chapter and I subsequently spent years on the RI Board, as its President, as a mentor, as a workshop presenter and just ready to help as I could, always available to my colleagues.

When I joined my husband and founded our consulting firm Cause & Effect Inc. in 1996, AFP nationally grew in importance to me. I attended the national conference and presented a few times. I attended and presented at other conferences in the New England region. The code of ethics and national advocacy were of great value. (I still have my beef with the PAC though. And for many years the lack of AFP accommodation for the many, many fundraisers working at small organizations that couldn’t afford the membership).

I decided to earn my CFRE, largely because I was interested in earning the ACFRE, the advanced fundraising credential held by only one other Rhode Islander, Simone. So I earned the CFRE, recertified once and then pursued the ACFRE which I received in 2002. That professional validation was important to my confidence as a consultant, as was earning my MS in management in 2000.

Why I decided not to renew

However, over the 26+ years I’ve been a consultant, the percentage of my projects that are directly fundraising has diminished substantially. I needed  to deepen my practice, my thinking and skills in other areas, like organization capacity building and public engagement including assessment, strategic planning, business planning, governance and board development, facilitation, organization behavior, DEAI, anti-racism, teaching and more. Other professional associations and communities of practice better filled those needs, like the Alliance for Nonprofit Management or Boston Facilitators and OD Roundtable, and even the New England Museum Association which aligned with the course I’ve been teaching at Brown University for over a decade.

So, when I received that renewal notice late last fall, I had to ask myself again, was the $350 price tag worth it?

A looming question for me was would I lose my hard won ACFRE without renewing my AFP membership? But the ACFRE doesn’t require being a member of AFP, though it does require “membership and active participation in a field-related professional organization, with demonstrated volunteer service to nonprofit organizations.” Check.

So, I gritted my teeth and made the decision. I decided not to renew.

What happened?

What AFP didn’t do. 

I received maybe two mailings reminding me my membership was about to or then had lapsed. I received an email on January 7th telling me my membership lapsed.

That’s it. No phone call. No call from AFP Global or even my local chapter. Membership over. I was dispensable. Forgotten.

At some point I am likely to attend a local event and pay the non-member price for the first time in 35 years. That should get some attention, right?

Don’t be like AFP. Instead, adopt the membership attitude of one of my clients, the Audubon Society of RI. Here’s the story of how they treat longtime donors who lapse:  How one nonprofit loved their lapsed members back

Would I now renew even if I was contacted? Unlikely. As the most expensive of all my professional memberships, it is the one delivering the least reward.

But I am sad. After all those years of loyalty, all those years of service, my membership in  AFP ended not with a bang, not even with a whimper.


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