Nonprofit Donor Retention: The Cheapest Way to Fundraise
Over 70 percent of people that we recruit into organizations never come back and make another gift, so we’re caught on this treadmill where we have to spend lots of money on acquisition, which most nonprofits lose money on anyway, just to stand still.
– Dr. Adrian Sargeant
What’s the easiest, least expensive way to raise more money?
It seems like the nonprofit sector has been talking about donor retention forever, doesn’t it? And with good reason: Despite a lot of talk, the statistics don’t seem to change much.
According to the latest data from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, “The pattern of retention for cash giving in the U.S. has worsened, with some organizations experiencing upwards of 70 percent attrition between the first and second gift.”
Yet the truth is, taking steps to reduce your donor attrition actually is the least expensive strategy for increasing your fundraising income. In fact, if you’re looking to save money on your fundraising costs, focusing on retention is the smart thing to do.
What are you doing to reach out and touch your donors—you know, those wonderful people who make your work possible?
1. Redo your thank-you letter. This one is a no-brainer. If your thank-you letter reads like a tax receipt, it’s time to make some changes. Check out this before-and-after example, download this handy thank-you letter template, check out "Sample Thank-You Letters For You to Swipe" from Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII), and think about incorporating handwritten thank-you notes into your repertoire. Whatever you do, stop sending out stale thank-you letters, and say “thank you” like you mean it.
And how are you thanking your first-time donors? Do you have a plan in place? Following up your thank-you letter with a welcome kit is a nice touch, and can consist of a letter, a newsletter created especially for new donors, a remittance envelope and, perhaps, a small gift, such as a bookmark or fridge magnet. Your donors might appreciate the opportunity to refer like-minded friends and family to your organization, too. What about including a “welcome kit in a letter”?
2. Reach out to your lapsed donors. They haven’t forgotten you—maybe they think you’ve forgotten them! How hard is it to tell your lapsed donors that you miss them and would love to have them back?!
3. Incorporate thank-you calls into your daily routine. In the book “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done,” author Peter Bregman told the story of the secret of Jack LaLanne’s success. LaLanne, a fitness visionary and showman, also was the founder of “The Jack LaLanne Show,” the longest-running television fitness program, airing for 34 years.
Bregman wrote that LaLanne “had one trick that I believe was his real secret power. Ritual. Right up until his death at the age of 96, he spent the first two hours of every day exercising. Ninety minutes lifting weights and 30 minutes swimming or walking. Every morning. That ritual enabled him to achieve his goals of staying fit, healthy and strong.”
Creating a ritual of daily thank-you calls will put you in the gratitude mindset—and everything that follows will flow.
4. Show impact before you ask for another gift. And how do we show impact? Statistics and numbers served? Not so much. Your donors love hearing the stories of the work their funding is making possible. Think newsletters, think impact reports, think email and social media updates.
5. Survey your donors. Surveying is that overlooked tool in the fundraisers’ toolbox. As Mary Cahalane said, sending out donor surveys can be a “little like getting letters from old friends in the mail every day—each returned survey was full of interesting information about the supporter, personal views and great anecdotes. In other words, a treasure trove.”
I’ll never forget my first experience with surveying—several of my respondents sent in checks, although I’d made no mention of money!
6. Get your board on board. Your board members love you and they want to be involved but please, for the love of God, “Stop asking your board members to find new donors!” (Amen to Susan Howlett). Instead empower your board members by including them in this process of celebrating your donors, and involving them in thank-a-thons by either giving them lists of donors’ phone numbers and scripts, or pens and notecards for handwritten thank-you notes.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.