Where you’re Going Wrong with Donor Retention – Purely Practical SMIT for February

Messy bedroom needs spring cleaning

Is your donor retention a mess?

Here comes this month’s *SMIT (Single Most Important Thing I have to tell you): the odds are good that you’re searching for love in all the wrong places.

Do a little spring cleaning and get rid of your apathetic donors.  I don’t mean you should toss them out the window. I mean you should do something to overcome their apathy. It’s not their fault.  Chances are it’s yours. I know that may sound harsh.  But, gosh darn it, we betray our donors all the time. Instead, we should go to them and give them some love. It’s really not that hard to retain your donors; you simply must have a strategy.

Most of us don’t even see the mess we’re making.  Just like that pile of papers that’s sitting over in the corner waiting to be tended to, our eyes glaze over. We’re apt to virtually ignore the broad base of donors in the middle, as well as our donors who lapse.  We send them one or two perfunctory renewal appeals; then we’re done.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it’s because announcing a big upgrade and securing a new donor just seems a lot sexier than renewing folks.  But sustainable fundraising is not about sexy.

Sustainable fundraising is about keeping your entire house in order. A focus on donor retention will raise lots of money. Period. Everyone knows by now (I hope) that it’s a lot more expensive to acquire a new donor than to retain an ongoing donor.  Nonetheless, too many nonprofits still focus the lion’s share of their resources on (1) upgrading a handful of major donors and (2) getting new donors in the door. Don’t get me wrong.  Tending to those things is important.  But it’s definitely not all there is.

Sustainable fundraising is about stewardship.  It’s about being thoughtful, friendly and kind to our supporters.  It’s about putting ourselves in their shoes, and understanding what they want from us.  As Penelope Burk has demonstrated time and again through her research, the number one thing ongoing donors want from us is: “Show me that you know me.”

To keep your donors coming back, here are a few more tips:

1. Develop a strategic stewardship plan.  Begin by checking out this interesting infographic comparing why commercial customers leave and why donors leave.  WAIT! Before you click, see if you can guess the number one reason.  Bottom line: They’re doing something better than we are. The commercial sector retention rate is 94% compared with a nonprofit rate of 41%. Ouch!

NOTE: This guessing game might be fun to play with your team – and a great way to kick-start a discussion about improving your plan for donor retention. My other advice would be to conduct a phone survey with a random number of lapsed donors to test these reasons out for your own nonprofit (my personal experience has been that a lot of donors never intended to leave; they truly thought they’d already given).  We know that every organization’s results are different.  Find out what’s going on – and rekindle a few relationships in the process.

You need a real plan, and it must have measurable objectives, assignment of responsibilities and timelines.  Stewardship is not an afterthought.  It’s the heart of the matter.

2. Remember to keep your focus on transformation; not transaction. The first gift is the latter.  It’s only a beginning.  The meaty part of the development process starts with that gift.  It’s just like when you meet someone new.  They’re not really a friend yet.  But if you share common interests and values they may become a true friend over time.  It won’t happen all by itself however.  You’ve got to work to build the relationship.

3.  Learn everything you can about your supporters. It will make it much easier for you to provide them with the value they desire and/or need.  Don’t just guess.  Do your research.  It’s not that difficult given all the tools at our disposal today, and it will put you way ahead of the game.

4.  Develop and implement a thoughtful, personal acknowledgment program. According to Penelope Burk’s research 46% of donors decide to stop giving for reasons tied to lack of meaningful information or to a feeling that their giving is not appreciated. Saying thank you in a prompt, personal and creative way might be the single most important tool you have in your fundraising toolbox.

5.  There are oodles of helpful tips for you in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival: How Do You Keep Your Donors Wanting to Come Back? And here’s a downloadable white paper from Avectra on Donor Attrition: Stopping the Downward Spiral.  So check these out!

Are you SMITten?  What’s your SMIT when it comes to retaining your donors? Please share!

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons Bianca Nogrady

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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.

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