Take Charge of Nonprofit Donor Retention to Raise More Money

By now I hope you’ve read the latest Fundraising Effectiveness Survey results and know that, on average, U.S. and UK nonprofits are retaining only 43% of their donors. This is abysmal, and it makes me sad. So much work. So little to show for it.

While there are all sorts of reasons this is happening, what matters most is stopping the attrition before your nonprofit withers and dies. Because at these rates, after seven years you’ll only have 10 out of 1,000 new donors you acquire today. You read that correctly! Did I mention that first-time donor retention rates are only 19%?

Donor retention expert Dr. Adrian Sargeant has done the research and tells us that just a 10% increase in retention today can increase the lifetime value of your donors by 200%. That’s eminently doable. You just need to know where to begin, then commit to making retention a priority.

A lot of donor retention success has to do with your attitude.

Specifically, how much you make donors a central part of your mission, strive to help them accomplish their dreams, and show them how grateful you are to them for all they do to make our world a better place.

The more you channel an attitude of gratitude (otherwise known as building a culture of philanthropy or a customer-service focused organization), the easier it will be to ratchet up your retention rates. As you do, many other benefits will come to you. When gratitude permeates your organization, then:

  • Less resources are spent on expensive acquisition; more focus can be placed on upgrading existing donors.
  • More donors stick around long enough to become committed and loyal; efforts to secure additional gifts, major gifts and legacy gifts are thus more fruitful.
  • More retained donors creates a larger pool of potential volunteers which can yield many benefits.
  • The longer a donor is retained the easier it is to recapture them if they lapse a year.
  • Retained donors who continually upgrade their gifts and/or make major gifts open more doors to other higher end donors with whom they associate.

We are in an era of relationship fundraising.

It’s no longer about transactions, if it ever was. Donors today are different, and no longer give just because “it’s the right thing to do.” Nor do they give token gifts to every charity that asks. Instead, today’s donors make impact gifts to a few charities. To the organizations where donors are persuaded that their philanthropy will have real meaning.

Part of this meaning is in the eyes of the beholder – which means you’ve done your job of transporting your donor to that place where they believe their engagement with you will help them to be the best person they can possibly be.

When you commit to donor retention you commit to donor love. Do this and you’ll have loyal supporters who will stay with you for life. They’ll take care of you, because you took care of them.

Donor retention is within your organization’s control. So… think twice the next time you’re tempted to:

  • Wait an extra week (or more) to get your thank you letters out
  • Be short with a donor on the phone
  • Fail to add a personal note to a thank you
  • Put updating your thank you letter on the back burner
  • Fail to take the extra effort required to fully answer a donor’s question
  • Spend all your time at your event talking to one or two donors, ignoring the rest
  • Ask your donor to give again, before you’ve demonstrated the impact of their previous gift(s)

Please join me for a webinar in May – 9 Keys to Donor Retention - where you’ll learn to understand/evaluate your own retention rate, use key drivers of donor commitment to keep donors connected, and set up a donor-centered next gifts strategy to renew more donors. To make stewardship about relationships, not checklists. And to build an organization-wide gratitude program and culture to upgrade donors and keep them for life!

Claire Axelrad, J.D., CRFE
Founder and Principal

Back to the May 2016 Hub