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How Do You Retain the Donors You Have?

September 14th, 2011

A good deal of scrutiny is typically given to total dollars, average gift, as well as new dollars and donors raised, whether from an acquisition appeal or not, but how much time is spent analyzing the existing funds and donors that were retained?

Understanding your churn rate is important, because as most fundraisers realize, it takes a great deal more energy and expense to bring a new donor on board than it does to maintain an existing one.  Also, building the loyalty and consistency of an ongoing supporter leads not just to greater longevity, but often, larger gifts over time, when the donor is properly cultivated.

Consider what you could do – or change, and not do – to make donors feel more appreciated and connected to your organization.  Since your nonprofit is competing with countless others, as well as a tight economy, you need every advantage to convince a contributor to become a loyal, returning donor.

How easy is it to donate?

Regardless of the method of giving, the constituent should feel that the process is virtually effortless.  If the nonprofit places too great a burden upon the donor to the point that they pay more attention to how long it takes to make the gift, then the thought and sentiment behind the organization, its mission, etc., have been lost and replaced with frustration.

The next time this donor is asked to contribute, they are more likely to remember that frustration they previously felt, instead of the altruism that initially stirred them into giving . . . and not donate again.  Instead, they’ll aim their philanthropy in a direction that is more accommodating and continues to remind them of the organization’s mission and feelings of benevolence.

No donor giving to charity wants to come away with the feeling that they just completed a transaction, or that it took five times longer than it should have.

What is your acknowledgment policy?

Perhaps it’s time to review your acknowledgment protocols.  Does everyone involved know precisely what your procedure is, or do some people fall through the cracks?  Which areas could be improved upon?  At what level of giving does a donor receive a personalized acknowledgment?  Is it a phone call, a (direct mail) letter, an email, etc.?  Does it look more like a receipt, or an actual thank you letter?  How soon after making a contribution does the donor receive the acknowledgment?  (Have you tested this to find out?)

Everyone likes to feel appreciated – and in a timely fashion.  Many people cannot afford to give what they once could, so it may be time to reassess your policy and send acknowledgments to giving levels that you previously didn’t.

What do your analytics say?

Check your statistics and find out how many and which donors you do retain, exactly.  What do they have in common?  Do they tend to give during a certain event, time of year or via a particular venue, such as online, direct mail or phonathon?  Do they cluster in certain geographic areas, or have other demographics in commonHow long do you tend to keep your donors renewing before they become lapsed?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you create targeted appeals to keep at least some of your groups from becoming lapsed, but first you have to understand where your various tipping points are.  Adding a “Would you like to make this gift recurring?option to your online eform could be one way to boost retention, for example.

Test, Test, Test!

Using the analytics that you’ve collected, don’t only send segmented, targeted appeals to retain your donors, but make attempts to test different approaches on portions of your appeals.  With carefully planned tests, you will be better able to gauge what your specific audience(s) responds to and give them more of what they want over time.

The better able you are to serve your constituents, the more likely you are to retain a larger portion of them in the long run.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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