7 Little-Known Tactics to Improve Donor Retention | npENGAGE

The 7 Keys to a Donor Retention Strategy Full of Thanks

By on Jan 22, 2014


By Claire Axelrad: Lifelong learner, listener, lecturer, lover, e’lucidator of all things philanthropic, passion-forward and peopl-centric. Fundraiser. Marketer. Innovator. On Twitter

Research shows the average nonprofit in the U.S. loses 70% of donors after the first gift.

And to make matters worse, the probability that a donor will make five consecutive gifts is only 10-15%.These numbers are just not sustainable for most organizations. By the time you’ve added a new donor, half of your previous new donors are out the door.

While it’s common knowledge in the for-profit world that it costs much more to secure a new customer than to retain an old one, somehow many nonprofits haven’t yet fully grasped that the same holds true with donors. One-time transactions don’t get you very far. If you want to build a transformational business model that moves your organization steadily forward (not two steps forward; three steps back), then you simply must put more resources into your donor retention strategy – more specifically, your gratitude program.

Frankly, I believe developing a robust gratitude program is the most important thing you can do if you want repeat gifts.

So, if you say you can’t afford to spend a lot of resources on a vigorous donor acknowledgment and stewardship program, I say WHAT? You can’t afford not to.

You’ve got to come from a place of thinking about love, not money. Human beings, not checkbooks. Consider this: We humans yearn to belong.When we give, we demonstrate that we’re joining a community of like-minded folks who share our values. That gift can be a one-time transaction, or a transformational experience — which is so much more.

For transformation to occur, however, work is required on your part. The gift is the first step towards joining our community.It’s the beginning of the relationship; not the end. So giving thanks is the beginning of stewardship.

Here are the 7 Keys to Improving Donor Retention and Enhancing Your Gratitude Program:

1. Promptness

If you don’t thank donors promptly, you’re destroying all the rest of your hard work. Get the thank you out the door within 48 hours.Period. No arguments.

People will try to tell you they don’t care if they don’t hear from charities for a week… a month… whatever.  Don’t believe them. Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, has proven donors care about promptness.  In one test with board members calling within 48 hours, those called gave an average of 39% more than those not called – and they gave 42% more after 14 months! This research has been recently confirmed, and it’s definitely something I’d recommend you test for yourself.

Promptness is not just a nicety.The most important predictor of likelihood to give is recency. If it takes you over a month to process a donor’s gift, then you’re missing out on their most-likely-to-give-again period.  A timely thank you gives the donor confidence you received their gift. It communicates that the gift will be used immediately. It puts forth a positive first impression. It lets the donor know they made a good decision and it demonstrates that you’re efficient.

A timely follow up matters. A lot.

2. Thoughtfulness

No more pro forma boring receipts, please.

Thank you on behalf of the board for your gift of $50” is the opposite of meaningful, inspiring or personal. “Children will sleep tonight, because you cared” makes a much better opener for a thoughtful thank you.

When you send grandma a thoughtful thank you that tells her why that particular gift was just “the thing”, she’ll want to give even more thought to what she gives you next time.  If you don’t thank her, or thank her perfunctorily, she won’t feel as generously inclined towards you.

3. Repetition

Once is not enough.

Thanking folks should be an ongoing, joyful practice.  If you think of it as obligatory, then you’re likely to do it once, check it off your list and be done. That doesn’t transform a budding relationship into a bonded one. It stops the potential friendship dead in its tracks.

Also, research on gratitude indicates that to produce lasting effects gratitude must be repeated. In fact, a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness for folks who were the gratitude recipients and a 35% reduction in depressive symptoms, but the effects disappeared within six months and three months, respectively. If you want your donors to stay uplifted by their philanthropy (and, as a corollary, if you want to continue to feel satisfied in your work with donors), then you’ve got to practice gratitude as a way of life.

4. Opportunities

Offer supporters ways to engage that don’t involve money.

Back to not just treating donors like ATMs, give them things they may enjoy doing. Things that may make them feel good.  Like volunteering, joining a committee, coming on a tour, attending an event, signing a petition or sharing something with their friends.

5. Gifts

Delight your donors and make them feel they’re more important to you than they even thought they were.

I don’t mean you should spend a lot of money on premiums.  I mean thoughtful “gifts” like pats on the back, snapshots of folks they’ve helped, snapshots you took of them at events, recognition in publications, endorsements on social media forums like LinkedIn, follows on platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and G+, thank you videos you can embed in tweets (check out Vsnap) or send via email.

You can also tuck inexpensive items into hand-written thank you letters.  For example, how about enclosing a piece of gum and saying “Thanks for sticking with us.”  Or some gold stickers with “Thanks for being a super star supporter.”  Or some mints with the note “Thanks for your commitMINT.” I used to bring home-baked cookies to my major donors, because I love to bake.  A colleague of mine brought homemade jam.  I’ve known folks to bring plants, flowers from the garden, magazines and little tschotskes they picked up on eBay (e.g., items the donor might like to add to a collection) for under $5.00. Check my ‘Gratitude = Retention’ Pinterest board for more ideas.

6. Online Presence

Don’t forget that folks who give to you online should also receive prompt, personal, thoughtful thanks. Don’t make these folks the ‘step-children’ of your donor acknowledgment program.

After your donor makes a gift online, they should immediately be taken to a special landing page on your website that thanks them for their gift.  This page should be tailored to the campaign to which they responded. One generic page for all purposes will end up looking like exactly that. It’s cold, impersonal and irrelevant. The donor needs to be reassured that their gift will be used for the purpose for which they intended. Maybe even jazz it up with a compelling, brief video. Certainly a photo! Here’s a great post-donation landing page example from Charity:Water. Your best practice will be to follow this in the very near future with a letter.With handwriting. Personal notes. Inserts. Whatever you do for supporters who give via mail.  Don’t create a 2-class system.

7. Phone Calls

If you want to deliver your thank you promptly, the phone can be your very best friend.

Sending a thank you letter sounds much easier than making a thank you call, but  for many donors it may be well worth it to pick up the phone to say thank you — in addition to sending a letter before or after.  As noted above, donors who are called will give more. Calling also helps you adhere to Rule #3 about the value of repetition.  I like to do it for donors at your major gift level (e.g., $1,000+), first-time donors (especially at $100+), donors who make a significant increase and donors who reach a cumulative giving milestone. I also like to call monthly donors at least annually, just to connect and thank them for their special loyalty. And I recommend testing a random sampling of your mid-level donors – those who you wish to upgrade – to see if this results in renewals at a higher level.

Some folks recommend that volunteers, especially board members, make these calls.  I believe folks are just as happy to receive a call from a staff member, as long as the caller is authentic and doesn’t sound like they’re robotically checking a task off their ‘to do’ list (and I don’t believe in paying folks to do this. Donors don’t want you spending your money on this). Whoever will be warm and genuinely grateful can make the call.  You can get my free Donor Thank You Calls E-Book + Script by joining me at clairification.com.

Gratitude is contagious. Nothing else will keep your donors in as continually a receptive mood. It’s good for you. It’s good for them.  How’s that for a win/win?

Looking for more? We’ve got you covered.

If you’d like to explore developing a robust gratitude program in more detail, get your free downloadable ‘Show the Love’ e-book from npENGAGE — with chapters from 14 nonprofit experts (me included) — on the subject of donor retention. Or, check out the Attitude of Gratitude Donor Guide to help you raise more money every year from here on out. It’s filled with tips, templates, checklists and samples to help you apply what you learn right away.

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