When you ask a fundraiser what the most difficult part of their job is, chances are you’ll get one of two answers – acquiring donors or retaining donors. Any fundraising organization is bound to come up against these problems at some point. But here’s the thing that is often overlooked – if you do a better job retaining donors, you can spend less time and money trying to acquire new donors.
Could this be the secret formula for fundraising success? Well, not entirely. But it’s a solid start.
Donor retention can seem elusive for many non-profits. It’s frustrating to pull up your annual reports to find out that you’ve only had 50% of last year’s donors make a gift again this year. Sometimes, it can even feel like a personal defeat.
If you’re working on the annual giving side of development, keep track of thousands of donors is nearly impossible. Your database can quickly become your archenemy. Having the highly personal relationships that major gift officers have with donors is a novel pipe dream.
But what if it was possible to scale this concept to create a system that retains donors? Good news – it is possible!
Let’s talk about solutions to escape the feast and famine cycles of fundraising. Non-profits who managed to retain upwards of 80% of their donors year over year are doing something different. They have internal systems that ensure donors are stewarded and cultivated in between asks. These systems model good donor relations and ensure that fewer donors get lost in the database abyss.
If your development office lacks internal systems and procedures that reinforce donor retention, here are four steps to consider to creating one from scratch and change your track record with donor retention.
Step 1: Map out the donor journey. To successfully keep track of donors and ensure regular contact with them, you have to first understand the various touch points they have with your organization. Start by mapping out what currently happens when someone makes a gift, then map out a more ideal situation. The ideal situation will become the framework for your retention system.
Step 2: Get a handle on your data. Surveys and research have shown that the sooner donors are thanked after making a gift, the higher their retention rates and future gift amounts will be. But in order to do this, you have to know when donors are making gifts. If you’re not the person processing the gift, this is where the donor journey (see Step 1) can start to go awry. To mitigate confusion and lost data, create queries in your database that pull new donors, donors who give a certain levels, for instance between $1 to $149 and $150 to $249. Use the dollar values and gift date as your primary query criteria. Then run these queries every one to two weeks, making sure to change the gift date field. This will give you a fresh list of donors to thank and keep an eye on.
Step 3: Determine what actions you (and your team) need to take. You have a data set, now what? It’s up to you and how your organization chooses to steward donors. Reference your ideal donor journey (what you created in Step 1) to give you a framework. You could make thank you phone calls, send a handwritten note or some other personalize stewardship action. Perhaps after taking this initial action, you’re next step is to invite that donor to an event about 6 months down the road.
Step 4: Take action! It’s really easy to create internal systems, procedures or plans, but they are worth nothing if you don’t take action. Schedule recurring times in your calendar to ensure that you stay on top of stewardship and donor retention. Better yet, get your team to commit to the appointments together every week.
By following these four steps, you’ll bring intentional structure to donor relations while ensuring that donors are thanked and appreciated in ways that are meaningful and demonstrate the impact of their support. These components are the bedrock of philanthropic relationships between charities and their supporters, and choosing to develop philanthropic relationships will help your non-profit stand apart in the donor’s mind.
Vanessa Chase is a non-profit consultant, copywriter and philanthropy advocate. Her interests in donor relations and storytelling drive her work. Vanessa regularly blogs on her website, Philanthropy For All.
I want to thank Vanessa for this super helpful post, and encourage you all to visit her blog for more great articles. If you’re serious about donor retention you may want to get my new Special Guide: How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude — Everything You Need to Know About Donor Retention. It’s a handy no-nonsense guide on how to put gratitude into practice on a daily basis. Templates, checklists, samples, creative ideas, links to tools and resources – it’s all there. For what you get, I think you’ll find it to be a bargain. And if it’s not, you can always tell me. I’m pretty nice about these things. To your success!