Fundamentals of Donor Retention
Donor-retention programs are designed to keep supporters engaged annually, and they can be one of the most effective strategies to improve donor lifetime value. The better you can retain donors, the more you can cultivate them and develop deep, meaningful relationships with them. The ultimate goal is to grow the donor file with the most loyal and long-term donors.
In the session “Fundamentals of Retention — The Types of Programs & Associated Creative Offerings to Effectively Retain Donors” at the DMA Nonprofit Federation’s 2011 Washington Nonprofit Conference last month, three fundraising professionals tackled donor retention. Amanda Clayton, integrated marketing manager at Doctors Without Borders; Jennifer Jones, director of direct-response marketing at CARE; and Jim Emlet, co-founder and principal at Integral, discussed basics of donor retention and shared donor-retention case studies.
Let donors decide
“Understand the messages that resonate the most with your donors,” Emlet said. “Look at an anniversary-based series versus a calendar-based series, and determine which approach is more productive for you.”
Anniversary-based approaches tend to provide cash-flow consistency, Emlet said, but calendar-based approaches may be easier to implement. It’s all about knowing your donors and understanding the messages that resonate most with them. Some organizations have multiple renewal and retention series, including low-dollar, high-dollar, anniversary and calendar series. The key is to let your donors decide, Emlet said.
In mid-2008, renewal revenue from a client’s traditional series to renew a magazine membership began to decline. Some of the results were attributed to expanding into new markets, but Integral and the client realized that the most dedicated donors weren’t renewing at their previous levels. So in January 2009, they created a second series with a more mission-based message, moving away from language focused mostly on magazine renewal.
The new series was an immediate success and stabilized retention. In year two, it surpassed the performance of the traditional series. But instead of ditching the old series, both approaches continued to be refined (and still continue to be refined), as each resonated with different audiences, Emlet said.