Friendship-Building Secrets to Build Donor Loyalty
Ever notice how sometimes when we put on our work hats we cease to be human? How we somehow morph into little robotic “professionals” and become enamored of jargon?
“Lybnts.” “Sybnts.” “Recaptures.”
Not that those things aren’t important. You need goals and objectives.
And given the dreadful state of donor retention in the U.S. today (and in the U.K and Canada as well), it’s vital you be able to measure how you’re doing. Because growth in giving is a factor not just of how many new donors and dollars you acquire, but also of how many donors and dollars you lose.
If you lose as many current donors as you gain new ones, you’re getting nowhere. Fast.
Treadmills Are Only Good in the Gym
Think about what you’re doing and why. When you acquire a new donor, is it for that one-time transaction?
If so, that’s not a very thoughtful strategy, because it costs money to acquire new donors. Often you won’t even make back your investment for 18 months or so. You won’t make it back at all if you don’t renew that donor.
Nonprofits, sadly, have been on a non-stop treadmill. Donors in. Donors out. Donors in. Donors out.
So… something about just measuring this stuff isn’t really working.
Before we get to some possible (very human) solutions, let’s take a look at the data.
The Dismal State of Nonprofit Donor Retention
The "2017 Fundraising Effectiveness Project" preliminary results were just released, and here’s the dismal state of average donor retention:
• Only 45 percent of all donors renew their giving.
• For every 100 donors acquired, 99 are lost to attrition.
• The average dollar retention rate is just 48 percent.
This has been going on for at least a decade, with donor and dollar retention averaging below 50 percent.
If we’ve known this for this long, why aren’t things improving?
The two fundamental reasons donor retention is so miserable:
1. Nonprofits don’t take time to actively make friends.
2. Nonprofits don’t take time to then be a good friend.
I often say: “The number one reason folks don’t give is they aren’t asked. The number one reason they don’t give again is because you didn’t ‘make nice.’”
It sounds simple, I know. But ask yourself how much of your day you spend really doing this?
Would you like a couple of secrets to help you activate you friendship building strategy?
2 Friendship-Building Secrets to Build Donor Loyalty
1. Actively make friends.
Let me illustrate how this is done with a story about my daughter.
She happens to be an introvert. She’s also an empath. And something in her brain clicked on her first day of high school. She intuitively understood that everyone was in the same boat as she was. No one had friends. Everyone felt uncertain as to how much they would be welcomed into their new community.
So she went up to strangers and invited engagement. She showed interest in them. She listened to them. She drew them out and didn’t make it about herself.
Within a week’s time, she had a cadre of loyal friends. They became more loyal every day (she’s now in her junior year).
Because she also actively does something else.
2. Be a good friend.
What do good friends do?
• They regularly think about each other.
• They call each other up.
• They invite each other out.
• They share items of interest.
• They give each other gifts.
• They support each other when times are bad.
• They celebrate each other’s successes.
• They accept one another.
• They are honest and self-revelatory with each other.
How much do you do these things with your donors?
This is really not rocket science folks.
You simply must commit to making this a priority.
5 Action Tips to Make and Keep Friends (aka Donors)
1. Start with a sincere thank you.
Thank you is the first and most important step to building loyalty.
According to Penelope Burk, the three things donors most want from charities all have to do with thank you. They want it (1) prompt, (2) personal and (3) powerfully demonstrative of the impact of their philanthropy.
According to Bloomerang, 13 percent of donors leave because the nonprofit didn’t say thanks.
Donors need to know:
• You got the gift.
• You put it to work as the donor intended.
• You follow through.
• You’re efficient.
• You have manners.
• You’re trustworthy.
• You’re committed to making your donors happy.
2. Never stop thanking.
Gratitude, to be effective, must be repeated. You truly cannot thank people too much.
While I may feel momentarily satisfied by the thank-you letter you send me following my gift, my satisfaction won’t remain for long. I’ll start to wonder if my gift is really having an impact. I’ll wonder if you still remember me or if anyone there knows I’m a donor. Am I important to you as a person or just another wallet?
In fact, I advocate sending thank-yous from multiple contacts at your nonprofit. Dole these out over time. One from the executive director today. One from the program director three weeks later. One from someone who was helped a month after that. And so forth.
A practice of continuous gratitude, expressed by different people, helps the donor feel part of your extended family and community. It has the added benefit of assuring your donor will remain connected should their primary contact leave the organization.
You can’t do this too much either.
The best way to flatter a donor is to remind them—over and over—“You made this possible.”
If you don’t “do the woo,” I can guarantee you someone else will. The philanthropy marketplace is crowded with other suitors.
4. Creatively demonstrate the impact they have on you.
Come up with different ways to show your donors the impact of their giving. Help them to see, feel, hear, touch and even smell your work. Here are a few ideas:
• Snapshot of your work in action
• Video of your work in action
• Letter/card/drawing from a recipient of services
• Event where clients attend
• Hands-on volunteer activity
5. Give gifts.
Show your donors you’re thinking of them. Often.
Gifts needn’t be tangible stuff. Little gifts of content are swell. Stories. “How-to” posts. Recommended reading lists. Recipes. Phone calls. Handwritten notes. Or you can offer experiences like behind-the-scene tours.
Absence does not make the heart grow fonder.
Commit to creating a friendship-building plan that keeps your organization top of mind with your supporters. Write it down and assign some resources to see it through! That’s by far the best way to assure your donors will be in a receptive frame of mind when you next approach them for a favor (aka, donation).
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.