We have to talk about donor retention.
I know, I don’t want to either.
I can already feel you wincing, and I don’t blame you. If you’re a fundraising professional, donor retention might be a sore spot. You’ve heard more than one gloomy statistic, like the fact that last year the number of donors, retention rates, and small gifts all decreased.
Donor retention is a constant thorn in our nonprofit side. Looking at the data, it’s easy to get frustrated. “People have suddenly become ungenerous and flaky!” you may grumble. I get it, but I promise you, they haven’t. Donors have changed, but not in their generosity or their commitment to causes they care about.
The things that have changed are donor expectations and the number of different devices clamoring for their attention. Technological advances have trained them to expect personalized experiences and, at the same time, fractured their attention. They are constantly connected, endlessly marketed to, and everything is tailored to their preferences. They want authentic experiences and to be part of the cause.
But too often, donors give, and then…that’s it. They get a boilerplate thank you letter and perhaps are subscribed to an email list. They never hear about the impact their gift made, they don’t find out what happened next in the story that inspired them to give and the messages they do receive aren’t relevant to them. No wonder they fall away.
When you know what donors expect and want, you’re no longer powerless against attrition and drop-off. Communication and personalization can help you build lasting relationships with your donors. It’s time to go beyond a monthly email newsletter and start creating the connections that inspire donors to stay with you.
Your communication strategy can be plain or fancy, done in-house or with an award-winning agency, but none of it matters if you don’t follow one central guideline: close the loop with your donors.
When a donor takes an action, the loop is opened. When you respond, it completes the loop. Without a response, the loop stays open and the donor eventually disengages. They may write you off, but it’s even more likely they’ll forget about the interaction altogether.
We’re talking a lot about Responsive Fundraising lately, and this level of responsiveness is basically a prerequisite: when your donors do something, respond.
In action, this doesn’t have to be involved or complicated, it can be as simple as:
If your donors know that you’re paying attention to them, that you’ll respond when they reach out to you, and that you’ll show them what their gifts accomplish, not only will their trust and loyalty increase, they’ll start to feel like part of a community.
When we talk about donor communication, these days our thoughts often go straight to email, and stop there. Email is useful, but it’s not the only tool you have. Consider adding these donor-approved communication techniques to your toolbox to boost donor retention and close the loop.
If the rise of social media has taught us one thing, it’s this: people love videos. Videos are engaging and spark emotion, and can even increase your email open rates. Giving your donors more of what they like equals greater donor retention.
Videos are a great way to show your donors the impact of their generosity. With a video, you can take your storytelling to the next level by introducing supporters to the people they’ve helped, the projects they’ve supported and the change they’ve helped make. It would be impossible to take all your donors to observe a day in your food pantry, but with video, you can give every donor a tour.
You don’t need to go to film school to produce an effective video update. Even a video you take on your phone of one person saying thank you can mean a lot to your donors.
Online, everyone and everything wants your donor’s attention, but in their postal mailbox, the competition is significantly less. A hand-written letter can really stand out amidst the bills and junk mail and make your donor’s day.
Handwriting cards and letters is time-consuming, but you can do a surprising amount if you stay consistent. If you wrote two notes a day, you’d send ten every week, and more than 500 a year.
You don’t have to write every note, though. Writing to donors is an excellent volunteer opportunity. Board members, program volunteers, and sometimes clients (as appropriate) are all candidates for the letter-writing brigade. You can even host a small event to write thank you cards or holiday messages.
Your nonprofit website can be more than a collection of information, it can host experiences for your supporters to help them connect with your cause and organization.
For some great examples, look to nonprofits with an educational component to their missions. The San Diego Zoo’s live cams let supporters take a sneak-peek into the lives of the animals they cherish from anywhere in the world. The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum uses an interactive online experience to introduce visitors to the biographies of individuals affected by the Holocaust, creating powerful emotional journeys. Art museums that put their collections online broaden the reach of people who can experience what they have to offer.
You can use immersive web experiences to close the loop with donors by suggesting them as a next step in engagement or creating donors-only experiences to show them their gifts in action.
The phone is a powerful donor retention tool because it immediately gives donors a one-on-one personal experience. It’s a good addition to your welcome process for new donors and a nice way to check in with your established donors.
Just like those hand-written letters, you can make a lot of donor calls if you commit to doing a few every day. Use these calls to say thank you, ask for feedback or follow-up on the information they’ve given you. For instance, if you’ve sent a donor survey and they responded with comments, give them a call to thank them and talk more.
Of course, you don’t have to do it all alone. Trusted staff and volunteers within your organization can also pick up the phone, especially for thank you calls. Since these are your beloved donors, take a little time to train callers, and provide them with talking points and/or a script. (Pro Tip: This is a good way to gently introduce your board to one-on-one donor interactions).
Live video on social media combines the excitement of a live event with the convenience of staying home. Your supporters can tune in from anywhere, but since there’s a time limit, it has more built-in urgency than watching a video.
Live social media events can include quick program updates from the field, interviews, panel discussions, presentations or behind-the-scenes tours. Donors have the opportunity to ask questions in the chat and respond in real-time, which makes the interaction personal.
Facebook Live is less formal than a produced video or immersive web experience. Consequently, you can be more nimble and use it to close loops with donor groups. For example, you could invite donors to your holiday giving program to tune into Facebook Live to see the piles of gifts they provided children, watch the gift wrapping in action and ask the program director questions.
If you have a message you desperately want your donors to read…text it. Stats on open rates vary, but they’re estimated at around 98-99%.
This is about more than text-to-give. With the help of marketing automation, you can keep your organization top of mind and build connections via SMS. You can send thank you texts after donations, confirmation, and reminders for event registration and announce fundraising totals after a campaign. It’s a great way to conveniently close the loop.
For example, imagine it’s #GivingTuesday. Before you go to work that morning, you donate to your favorite nonprofit’s campaign. You immediately get a text to say thanks, perhaps with a video link about the program you funded. You might get a progress update that afternoon, with an invitation to share the campaign. Then, the next morning, you get a text saying how much the nonprofit raised. You’re up to date, and you didn’t even have to look for that information.
If that communication stream had been conducted only by email, you might not have even seen it, depending on how your day went. But via text, you almost definitely received all of the information. You are more engaged and aren’t left wondering how things went, because the nonprofit closed the loop.
When you use all available tools to communicate and connect with your donors, you’ll encourage them to keep giving and stay engaged with your organization. Even better, the connections you make with donors will be authentic and valuable to them, and they’ll know you’re listening and responding to them as individuals. That’s what makes donors stick around.
No one believes donor retention is easy, but without a responsive nonprofit CRM and marketing automation, it’s even harder. Learn more about how you can streamline your processes, make more contact with every donor and build strong, lasting donor relationships with Virtuous.
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.