Slowing Down the (Donor) Revolving Door, Part 1
Like many adults who grew up in the upper Midwest, I have recurring nightmares about being stuck in a revolving door, going around and around before finally being spit back onto the street. OK, so it's not really that bad, but being knee-high and seeing only boots and heavy winter coats is somewhat character-building.
Unfortunately for many nonprofits, it can feel like we have an invisible revolving door that is causing our donors to disappear from view, never to be seen again. It's clear that retaining donors is essential for organizations to survive and thrive, but how do we increase the likelihood of retention?
Let's look at the general steps first before we go into proven tactics for donor retention.
- Accept that you have to have (at a minimum) two plans: One for first-time donors and one for multi-gift donors. You can't simply decide that you live in a one-size-fits-all world. First-time donors need a different kind of nurturing. You have to help them grow into your more robust communications.
- Donor retention is not a one-time effort or a one-medium program. Donors might not conform to your calendar, and they might not choose to respond to a particular communication method. You need to make multiple efforts to get them to continue giving and approach them from different directions.
- Even though it hurts, you have to figure out when to give up. Continuing to mail to a donor who clearly is no longer interested is a waste of your organization's money. Some attrition is a given. Death, moving away, changing financial circumstances, disinterest — any of these can cause a donor to stop giving. Your focus needs to be on what you can control — things like boring communication, lack of understanding of the need, failure to see how a gift brings about results and a feeling that I (the donor) am not truly appreciated.
So, now that we've established the basic steps, let's talk about how these translate into effective programs that maximize donor retention.