10 Best Practices for Netting and Keeping Donors
Attracting new donors is harder than keeping the ones you’ve got. But keeping the donors you have is easier said than done.
The session “Be Your Donors’ Favorite Charity: 10 Tips to Keep Them Giving Again and Again” presented by Heather Burton, product marketing manager at Sage Software, on Monday at the AFP 44th International Conference on Fundraising in Dallas, offered attendees these actionable tips to keep donors engaged and giving:
1. Be accountable. Accountability builds trust with donors. Be forthcoming in financial audits and make sure that you use the money you raise for the purposes you outline in your solicitations, and communicate this to your donors. “Once a donor is lost due to a lack of trust, rarely do they return,” Burton said. “Being accountable for the funds you raise will keep your organizational integrity intact and your donors contributing to your cause.”
2. Know your donors. How do your donors want to be contacted? What is a donor’s normal giving cycle? What prompted a donor to give to you the first time? “Pay attention to any communication you receive from donors — written notes with contributions, attendance at a particular event, or a sudden change in giving pattern,” said Burton. Document and save this information to build a donor profile. Respect their wishes for how they want you to communicate with them and leverage what prompted them to give to you in the first place. “Future gifts depend on how well you’ve nurtured the donor’s relationship with your organization,” she said.
3. Thank donors. How you thank donors can have either a positive or negative effect on how they view the organization. Timeliness is key. Thank donors as soon as possible after receiving their donation, either with a phone call, a card, a letter or e-mail. “The gift is fresh in their mind, and by responding quickly, it secures their faith in your organization,” Burton said. A thank you is a chance to reiterate your campaign message. Have a strategy in place for thanking donors and test different communication methods. One idea Burton recommended is sharing a success story along with a photograph. By doing this, she said, “You are supplying the donors with the immediate gratification that their dollars are making a difference and are being used for the donor’s intended purpose.”
4. Make it personal. Personalize the salutation, but also include details of the recipients’ most recent gift such as the amount that they gave, when they donated and the campaign they donated to in solicitation and thank-you letters. When possible, physically sign letters, hand write addresses on outer envelopes and use First Class stamps. Also, acknowledge any uniqueness to their gift, she said, such as whether it came from a family trust, through a neighborhood event or was designated for a specific purpose. “This level of personalization shows you are paying attention not only to the gift itself, but the donors’ intentions,” she added.
5. Be consistent. Understand the expectations that exist with different donors and the goals and limitations of your organization so that you can meet those expectations. Make sure you are consistent in your messaging, in the events you hold, in the communications vehicles you use and in the timing of campaigns. Communicate with donors any changes in what they’ve grown to expect from you. If the date that a special event is being held needs to change or if your organization has a new logo, communicate that with donors. Inconsistency can lead donors to doubt your organization. But “keeping the donors in the loop will strengthen their relationship with your organization and gives you another chance to touch your supporters,” Burton said.
6. Show donors how they’ve helped, without an ask. Share success stories when you thank donors to show how their contribution is making a difference, regardless of the gift size. Reiterate this in all subsequent donor communications like the newsletter, Web site, and e-mail and direct-mail solicitations. Doing this frequently is key. “Reaching out to your donors often and through a variety of mediums will help keep ‘top of mind’ awareness for your organization,” Burton said.
7. Have a media strategy and implement it. Take advantage of media outlets that serve your donor demographic. Why not? It’s free. And “having positive press coverage in the local newspapers, magazines, TV, or even the radio serves as third-party validation of your organization and yet another way to reach out to your donors,” Burton said. To leverage the media, develop a relationship with media contacts; come up with a consistent format for press releases and send them often to build familiarity; and make sure the contact person listed in the press releases is available to the press for interviews. “Although you may not have total control over the decision to cover your story or the exact message the reporter creates, you do have control over the information you make available, the timing and the selling points that would win coverage over a competing story,” Burton said.
8. Build circles of support to reinforce your message. Encourage your board, volunteers and staff to talk with others about your organization in their everyday interactions. Build relationships with local businesses and leverage networking groups and clubs to market your organization. Word-of-mouth marketing attracts new donors, creates a good image of the organization within the community and promotes donor retention. “The more people who speak highly of your organization, the greater chance your donors will be hearing messages of credibility and worthiness in casual conversation. These messages confirm their choice in supporting your organization and can generate further excitement about being a consistent contributor,” Burton said.
9. Practice continuous improvement. Hone and improve your processes as your knowledge of and experience with donors grows. Burton recommended gathering staff together after major fundraising initiatives to review strengths and weaknesses of the effort and prepare for the next one. Evaluate, document and improve upon each fundraising effort. “Continuous improvements made to all aspects of your organization will not only help your programs be more effective, but will create an organization that your donors will be happy to be affiliated with,” she said.
10. Create a recurring gift program. Recurring gift programs increase donor loyalty and provide your organization with a constant revenue stream. “By asking existing donors to make smaller donations on a recurring basis, you are keeping them active and engaged,” Burton said. Recurring gift programs can easily be integrated into an existing fundraising program, and automatic deductions are a no-hassle way to give. Before implementing a recurring gift program, determine how you will be processing gifts, enact security measures to protect donor information, make sure you have the internal resources to manage the program and the technology to track the necessary information. “By specifically inviting donors to join the program, you are not only securing their continued support, but opening the door for additional special ‘asks’ throughout the year,” Burton added.
Heather Burton can be reached via www.sagenonprofit.com