When it comes to improving donor retention, I often try to guide organizations through the process of shifting their thinking – and the culture of their organization – in the direction of gratitude rather than greediness toward their donors.
What’s important about making this philosophical shift is that it forces you to think very specifically about what you’re grateful for.
You aren’t simply asking your donors for money. Similarly, you aren’t thanking your donors for money.
You thank Joe because he makes your mission possible. You thank Nancy because she helped you save a grove of trees. You thank Liam because he helped you put food on a hungry family’s table. You thank Julia because she helped you bring arts education to elementary schools in your community.
If your organization has a gratitude culture in place, then:
- When you asked for a gift, you were very clear about what that gift would accomplish.
- When the gift was given, you were equally clear about what the gift accomplished.
- When the donor demonstrated their generosity towards you, and showed they share your values, you warmly welcomed the donor into your family.
- Because the donor is a member of your family, you continued to shower your donor with unconditional love – even at times when they weren’t giving you a donation.
Your donor took care of you; now you take care of your donor.
A family cares for its members.
The importance of this shift towards a gratitude culture is that it takes you away from the mercenary “all we care about is your money” perception that’s often created by generic appeals that seem to be saying little more than “please send money.” [Paradoxically, once a donor begins to think of themselves as a family member they are much more likely to “just send money” and make an unrestricted gift. That’s why appeal letters written to ongoing donors can be briefer and more generic than appeals directed towards donor acquisition. But you’ve got to build the family relationship first.] The cultural shift takes you to a critically important “we care about you” culture, assuring that when you communicate with your donors you do so in a manner that is personal and relevant to them.
Every donor matters. Every donor is a unique person.
Once someone makes a gift to you, they are no longer an abstract “persona.” Once they’ve made the shift from “prospect” to “donor” you need to show them you know them. You need to reach them by talking about things they care about. You need to shift away from hypothetical (prospects who might care; personas who share characteristics of would-be donors) to real (donors who care; outcomes made possible)… from selling (broadcasting features; lecturing; dumping copious supporting data) to sharing (highlighting benefits from engagement; demonstrating common values) … from greed (money, money, money) to gratitude (love, appreciation, empathy).
Here’s a handy summary of tips to help you:
1. Tell your stories.
The best way to keep things real for your donors is to share stories about the outcomes they’ve made possible. Make them feel like the hero they are! Your purpose in sharing content must be to persuade supporters that if your organization, and the donor, didn’t help, something untenable would have happened to your main character. The character may be a person, an animal, a place or a principle (e.g., overcoming injustice; saving the environment).
Telling stories is the best way to draw prospective donors in — and also the best way to keep them interested and engaged.
Humans are wired for stories , so part and parcel of becoming a gratitude culture is becoming a storytelling culture. Learn how in 6 Best Ways to Make Storytelling Part of Your Nonprofit Culture.
2. Involve donors other than by giving money.
Every marketer worth their salt knows that awareness leads to interest; interest leads to involvement, and involvement leads to investment.
If you want your donor to continue to invest, you job is to deepen their involvement. So when you send a thank you, show them other ways to engage with you. Do the same when you send a newsletter. Or share an annual report. Or create a blog post.
Showcase volunteer opportunities. Tours. Events. Surveys. Feedback. Signing a petition. Joining a committee. Retweeting a tweet. Forwarding an email. The possibilities are endless.
Offer numerous involvement opportunities as often as you can, in as many forums as possible.
3. Call for the action you want.
Experienced fundraisers know that the #1 reason folks don’t give is because they aren’t asked. Those vague fundraising appeals that explain the need but are too timid to ask for the gift don’t work very well. Those that ask, but which do so in generic terms (i.e., “Please support us” rather than “Please consider a gift of $100”) leave money on the table.
Involvement calls to action that are vague don’t work well either. People want to help you, but they need direction.
People have numerous options for how to spend their time. If you just say “Hope you’ll help us spread the word” you won’t get very far. Tell them specifically how to do so (i.e., “Please retweet this to five friends” or “Please write your congressperson; here’s their contact information” or “Please call Dana at this number if you can attend”).
Treat folks with respect by getting straight to the point and making it easy for them to do what they care about.
4. Thank more than once.
When I began in fundraising I was fortunate to have the “Daddy of Fundraising,” Hank Rosso, as a teacher. He taught me to thank donors six times. I find that when I share this with folks they tend to think I’m nuts! But that’s because they’re construing this advice a bit too concretely. I don’t mean for you to send six identical thank you letters to donors.
I do mean for you to send as personal as possible communications every other month or so to remind your donors how important they are to you. And change things up to get noticed.
You need a mix of print and digital communications to assure that folks read at least some of what you send them. You may know your board member’s preferred method of communication, but for the majority of your donors you don’t know this. So don’t assume they read everything you mail, email or send via social channels.
The e-newsletter that included a special thank you section. Or the website video that showed your staff holding up “thank you” placards. Or even the personalized twitter thank you sent using Vsnap. You’re going to have a lot of great ideas, but it’s inevitable some of them will get wasted. Accept this; then do what you can to assure that at least some of the creative thanks you send are received and appreciated.
You can’t thank folks too many times. So don’t worry that some folks will actually receive everything you send. Communicating via multiple channels reinforces your message of appreciation so that it truly sinks in – making your donor feel all warm and fuzzy.
5. Don’t be boring
If you want to truly delight your donors – and become memorable – you’ve got to “WOW” them. That’s why I emphasize creativity so much. Anyone can send a receipt or perfunctory form letter. But you’ve got to be special to send a spectacular thank you.
The first rule is to stay away from lengthy, mind-numbing letters and reports that resemble term papers. People today have no time. They won’t read anything that isn’t succinct and punchy.
The second rule is to get inside people’s hearts by using the tools we know are the most emotionally compelling. Stories. Videos. Photos. Infographics.
Finally, make sure you also focus on impact. Results are ultimately what matter to folks. And there’s nothing that “WOWs” folks more than seeing the fruits of their investment.
Want to get a second gift? An even larger third gift? Want to assure the lifetime value of your donors merits the investment you put into acquiring them?
Be sincerely grateful for the first gift — and make sure your donor knows how thankful you are!
By adopting an attitude of gratitude you naturally engage with and prime your donor to give again. Your job as a fundraiser is to be an engagement guide. Give your donors a happy experience and they’ll give one back to you!
Last Days to Get the Power of Thank You
There’s still time to register for my upcoming 4-week E-Course with expert Pamela Grow: The Power of Thank You/The Basics and More! Donor retention is probably the greatest challenge facing nonprofits today. If you’re not making it a priority you’re ignoring your nonprofit’s future. Learn how to WOW your donors and keep them for life with this simple, practical course. Then write your thank you while you’re writing your year-end appeal. There’s no point getting donors today, only to lose them tomorrow! REGISTER TODAY — and keep your hard-won donors!