We know donor retention is an uphill battle nonprofits fight every day. Generosity is a deeply personal choice that can shift due to a myriad of reasons. Even with the most sophisticated team of experts, it’s common for nonprofits to see their lapsed donors list continue to grow.
However, a common problem does not translate to impossible problem. Using a combination of the right processes, software and perspectives, you can build a genuine relationship with all your donors. The kind of bond that inspires loyalty and generosity, year after year.
You don’t get lapsed donors for any single reason. The problem of donor attrition is complicated because there are as many causes as there are donors. But, we do know that many of the most common reasons can be boiled down to a few familiar themes, which means there are ways your nonprofit can address attrition today.
Frequently, donors lapse because they lack a connection to your nonprofit. First-time giving is typically a response to an event in the donor’s life. That event could be anything. Maybe they watched a compelling documentary and became aware of an injustice, or perhaps a loved one fell ill and they wanted to fight to keep others from feeling that helplessness they experienced.
Once that initial urgency to give fades away, though, donors become less likely to give again. Your job is to make sure they continue to have new reasons to support your mission. Connect with donors so that their motivation to give shifts from a single event to a personal connect to your nonprofit.
Lapsed donors also result from misunderstanding your vision. Perhaps, they’ve only been delivered fundraising communications about a single topic — say, installing a new fountain on campus. If your donors see the new fountain during their next campus visit, they might assume your work is done.
Disaster relief nonprofits run into this problem frequently. It’s not uncommon for an average donor to think everything is back to working order in an affected area a year later.
Of course, you know differently, but you’re involved in the mission all day, everyday. Donors are not. So, you have to be the one to communicate constantly, keeping them informed and updated on everything going on in your nonprofit.
Finally, donors might not give again because they’ve lost interest in your mission. Unlike the previous reasons, there isn’t much you can do about this one. However, you can still use their behavior to make better connections in the future.
One valuable strategy is to connect your lapsed donors with a nonprofit they are more aligned with. Not only can you create a network of nonprofits that connect each other with the right donors, but you’ll also prove to your lapsed donors how much you care about getting to know them.
While it might not convince them to give again, it will solidify your generous relationship. They will be more committed in the future to advocate for your cause if they know how deeply you care about donors, past and present. The more advocates you can generate for your nonprofit, the easier it will be to convert lapsed donors.
With an understanding of why a donor lapsed, it’s easier to build a re-engagement strategy targeted to their priorities. Although not every strategy will work for every donor, these are the most powerful strategies we’ve seen work most often.
One of your biggest vulnerabilities is assuming donors understand your work. As we mentioned, first donations are rarely motivated by your specific nonprofit. Building loyalty is your responsibility and you should be proactive about making them feel welcome. Don’t let weeks or months pass before connecting with new donors. Introduce them to all the best parts of your community immediately after their first donation.
Be enthusiastic and comprehensive with your information. The more they see, the more they can connect with based on their own life. As your new donors interact with the welcome series, make sure your CRM is recording their behavioral data. Later, you can use their preferences and interests to send the perfect fundraising email.
The best tasks are ones that don’t require any extra time from your team. Work to create as many automated communications as possible. Decide what triggers are important to your new donors and create workflows based on those behaviors.
You know how important a welcome series is, but what else can you be doing to create a better experience for your new donors? Try automating a direct message when they follow you on social media. Maybe they get a gift if they refer a friend to your email newsletter. All of these small touches make donors feel important to your nonprofit, but can be automated by your CRM so your team doesn’t even have to think about it.
Your team has access to several different communication channels. Phone calls, emails, social media, video conferences, direct mail, and in-person meetings all have a place in your relationship building strategy. Email might be easier for you, but is it what your donor prefers?
Remember, you want to build a relationship that proves to new donors that they matter to your nonprofit and the community wouldn’t be the same without them. To do that, you have to connect with them in the ways they are going to respond. And you have to be ready to recognize their preference may not be your first choice. If you want to see better success, however, sometimes the answer is, “Adapt or die.”
Improve your donor retention by trying different types of outreach. Not every new donor will respond to somber news. Some want to celebrate the progress. Others might want to know more about the individuals who work at your organization rather than only those you’re trying to help. Mix up your messaging to try to re-engage lapsed donors.
Most importantly, keep track of the kind of messaging your donors are responding to. If this group (aka, donor list segment) of your donor list responds to one kind of message type, make sure they get more of it. Prioritize other messaging to the segment that wasn’t so responsive.
You can mix messaging based on audience segments, marketing tactic or fundraising goal. Try as many different strategies as makes sense for your goals. The more data you can input into your CRM, the better it will be at suggesting what will engage your donor base next.
Building donor relationships is a skill that takes time to master. The right tools and resources can make that process easier for you. Learn more about how to build authentic relationships with your most important donors in our webinar.
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