Battling the Retention Crisis
Sure, the word “crisis” seems a little strong, but I think it’s warranted here. As we all know, fundraising is all about relationship building — from the very moment someone first learns about your organization, you need to have a plan in place to cultivate that relationship, no matter the size of the potential gift.
However, I think a lot of organizations aren’t putting a strong focus on a very important part of this relationship-building process — sharing the impact a donor has on an organization's work.
Soliciting donors is of course important, but what keeps them coming back year after year? What encourages them to increase their level of support? Become a monthly donor? Leave your organization in their estate plans?
Retention is one of the biggest challenges our sector faces. The numbers of donors who don’t renew each year are startling, yet the answer is so simple. Donors want to hear from organizations they support. Don’t save it just for major donors and six-figure partners who are the ones traditionally receiving regular impact updates. And communication needs to extend beyond fundraising appeals.
Think about your own retention rates and how much you could gain from retaining just 10% more donors each year. These are people who are already connected to your work; meaning, you’ve passed the difficult acquisition stage. Now you can take the same amount of work as you would soliciting them to solidify the relationship after their initial gift. I’ll share three approaches I take when thinking of impact and retention:
Prioritize Impact Reporting As Much As Solicitation
We need to think bigger than standard thank-you letters to share impact. Sure, they should be well-written and convey a strong sense of gratitude. But how often are you communicating impact to donors between this automated thank-you letter/email and your next appeal? Think about breaking the cycle. I’m sure you can think of one or two organizations yourself who only seem to send you solicitations.
My suggestion: Take some time to sketch out your communications schedule for the entire year. Look at the calendar quarter by quarter or, even better, month by month, and separate your communications out by solicitation and stewardship. If you notice a pattern of appeals, one right after another or a lack of overall stewardship, take this opportunity to pencil in some impact reporting with your donors.
Share recent numbers about your services, volunteer hours recorded or even report on the progress from your last fundraising campaign. Or share one story of impact from someone who benefitted from your services (I’ll circle back on this later). The point is, you should try to strike a balance — your donors will feel good about receiving these regular updates and your next appeal won’t feel out of place.
Personalization Matters in Impact Reporting
When a donor makes a gift, they are giving you more information than just a name and an email address. They are sharing what they care about — like the mission of your organization. Or in the world of peer-to-peer, they are giving because a friend asked them to. While this may not seem like valuable information, or it may seem hopeless to turn this donor into a regular supporter, there may be more here than you think.
This is where a good CRM comes into play. Collecting any and all information will help you customize your communications — including impact reporting. In this peer-to-peer scenario, let’s say someone donates to your organization through my birthday fundraiser.
Can you imagine the connection you could make if this person received an email just a few months later sharing the impact “Luis’ Fundraiser” had for the organization? “Because you helped Luis reach his fundraising goal, we were able to feed more than 200 people last month.” If you can help make this first-time donor realize the power of their gift, it may inspire them to give again, or even host a fundraiser themselves.
Play around with different personalization strategies for impact reporting, like sharing numbers of impact in their home state. If they donate to a specific cause within your organization, share numbers on that specific cause instead of “everyone” your organization helps. The possibilities are almost endless.
Reporting doesn’t always mean numbers and charts — connect a donor to one amazing story of impact.
If there is anything I’ve learned in my career as a fundraiser, it’s that capacity is a common challenge, especially for smaller nonprofits. What if you don’t have the time or resources to put together a fully designed impact report, or build out charts and graphs to represent your impact?
Some of the most powerful pieces of impact I’ve seen have told the story of just one individual (or animal, for you wildlife organizations) who has had their outcome drastically changed. If you can connect a donor to one story, you increase the likelihood that someone will connect on a personal or emotional level — which is almost guaranteed to build a life-long relationship.
And this style of impact reporting doesn’t have to cost a lot or take a lot of time. If you received a handwritten thank-you note from someone who received your services, it can be as easy as scanning the note and sending it by email. Or send it out by mail with a quick message from the organization. And then, you can tie it into the larger picture of your organization: “This is just one of the hundreds of stories you make possible.”
So here’s the main point I’m trying to get across… if you take the time to share impact with your donors on a regular basis, you are more likely to keep your donors coming back year after year. Don’t let the pressure of fundraising goals distract you from this essential piece of the process. Balance is key here, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Beginning his fundraising journey in college, Luis has devoted his career to supporting nonprofit organizations and the communities they serve.
Currently, Luis Ramirez serves as the development manager at Active Minds, the nation’s premier nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults. Luis believes that donors should be celebrated at every opportunity through strategies which not only focus on strong solicitations, but also thoughtful cultivation and stewardship approaches. He believes the biggest issue facing nonprofits today is donor retention which can be remedied through a culture of gratitude for all donors at all giving levels.
In addition to his work with Active Minds, Luis has had the pleasure to work on the development teams of two other organizations: Food & Friends, a DC based nonprofit providing medically-tailored meals and nutrition counseling to neighbors living with serious illnesses, and Rebuilding Together, a national organization providing critical housing repairs for seniors, veterans and low-income families, .
Luis also strives to continue learning about current trends and best practices in fundraising through his membership in the DC Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, also taking on the role as Co-Chair of the chapter’s LGBTQ+ Affinity Group.
He holds a degree in Community Health from the University of Maryland, taking on an active alumni role as the President of the Lambda Pride Alumni Network, the official LGBTQIA alumni network for the University.
A life-long Maryland resident, Luis and his partner live just outside of DC with their cat and two dogs.