Blackbaud’s 2016 Charitable Giving Report shows us that donor retention for first time donors is still remarkably low – 29% for offline donors and 21% for online donors. But if donors are retained passed that first year, the retention rate jumps significantly to 60% for offline donors and 58% for online donors. This data shows that new donor retention should be a high priority for non-profit organizations.
According to this most recent Charitable Giving Report, “The US nonprofit sector is entering a period where sustainable growth depends on embracing best practices in donor engagement, retention, and stewardship.” This is our professional call to action. Now is the time to instate best practices at your organization and truly develop a great system for donor retention.
So much of fundraising and relationship building is about following up with donors—keeping in touch, reporting impact, keeping them apprised of new happenings and so on. This is where I see a lot of organizations struggle. First, they wonder about the “right” volume of communications to send to donors. Second, they wonder what the content of these communications should be.
My short answer to the question regarding volume of communications to donors is that it needs to be more than you are currently doing. For instance, one email a month to your email list is not that much and more than likely not enough to do the heavy lifting of relationship building. Start by evaluating the volume of your communications to your donor segments—offline and online donors. List out everything someone would have received if they made a gift six months ago. Ask yourself: Is this enough to successfully build a relationship with the donor?
When it comes to the content of donor communications that actually retain donors, we must focus on communicating impact. The best content to accomplish this is stories. Stories show donors their impact in action and clearly demonstrates how, through giving, a donor has helped solve a problem or meet a need.
As you evaluate your donor communications strategy, here are three places that you will want to incorporate stories:
1. Thank You Letters
Thank you letters are often the first touch point a donor receives after making a gift. A great thank you letter should surprise and delight donors, tell them how the gift was used, and tell them a story of impact. This does not have to be a long story. It can be a short paragraph in the letter, but that will be enough to give your donors the warm fuzzies about their philanthropy.
2. Donor Newsletters
Newsletters are such an important piece in donor communications and stewardship. But all too often they are just used to report updates and nothing more substantial. Pivot your organization’s newsletter to be more donor centered. Make the whole newsletter about donors and donor impact, which includes telling a variety of stories.
Need some newsletter inspiration? Check out these five non-profit newsletters.
3. Impact or Gratitude Reports
Many organizations are starting to do special follow up reports on larger annual campaigns that they run. These reports are impact or gratitude reports that, again, highlight donor impact through stories. They showcase stories of program participants, clients, and beneficiaries of the work. In some cases, they will also tell donor stories to help connect donors to their peers.
No matter where your organization is at with donor retention, I encourage you to evaluate and upgrade your efforts through story-based content.