The Donor Retention Clock Is Ticking
Donor retention is vital. To us, it has been a core strategy and priority for nearly two decades.
Too often, an organization approaches us and shares that they need help with donor acquisition. Then we discern that their priority should be donor retention.
Always, shore up your base first!
According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, donor retention in 2017 was 45.5 percent among participating organizations.
The most important thing for your nonprofit to know is your donor retention rate.
National and international trends and benchmarks are fine, but be sure that you have a grasp on what is happening with your donors.
Then, be sure you have a plan to increase donor retention. It should be an integral part of your overall development or advancement plan—not something that you create ad hoc. This should include quality communications that say “thank you” more than “please,” inviting donors to get involved beyond giving through volunteer opportunities, giving advice, speaking, etc.
Be sure that you have systems in place to implement this and make every step as personal and tailored to the donor as possible. Be sure to have a calendar to drive activities.
We are now in the final quarter of the year and the clock is ticking on donor retention (whether you are on a calendar year or not, most donors think in these terms). This is also the most generous quarter of the year, so make plans to leverage that.
While donor retention at all levels is important, the biggest impact you can make is to identify major donors who are not currently being retained—however “major donor” is defined at your organization. If you have not done this in prior years, go back a year or two and include those donors. With each lapsing year, it will become increasingly challenging to bring your past supporters back in the fold.
Here are a few year-end tips after you have identified your lapsed major donors:
- Determine when the last time someone from your organization had a conversation with the donor and who this person is.
- Discern the best volunteer or staff member to reach out to this past donor.
- If you have not spoken with the donor in a year or more, make plans to reach out right away to thank them for their past support and engage in dialogue—don’t ask for their support directly unless they bring it up.
- Make this first call or email/note about deepening a relationship—not about a donation. Connect with them on their past support and share about a project of interest—you may want to send an article or a link to your website in coordination with your call or if you cannot reach them by phone.
- Many donors will bring up giving, so be sure to have an email you can send with an easy giving link. Connect the opportunity with a project of interest to them and create a sense of urgency if possible (beyond the year-end effort, which is about your organization, not them as a donor).
- Where you cannot reach someone by phone, or where you just feel it is more appropriate, send a letter or email first—no ask, just a thank-you and sharing information on the impact of their past giving or a project that will likely be of interest to them.
- Make this first outreach happen in October; time is of the essence.
- Then in mid-November send a Thanksgiving card for their past support.
- The first week of December, send a lapsed donor appeal and have a volunteer or staff member follow-up by phone.
- Have an email and letter ready to be sent the first week of December to these lapsed donors whether you were able to reach them or not.
- In addition to an official gift receipt, be sure that the volunteer or staff member sends the donor a personal thank-you note for their gift renewal.
- Plan for the same staff or volunteer to call these lapsed donors in January to thank them again and, ideally, initiate or continue a conversation.
Make it your goal that no gift is a one-time occurrence. Embrace your donors—and lapsed donors—at all levels. Focus more personal attention on those who can make the biggest difference for your mission and let them know that they are valued. Set the stage with the goal of a building life-long relationship that brings great joy to the donor and has a life-changing and life-saving impact on the lives of those your organization serves.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.