Donor retention is THE thing

It’s not as though donor retention is a new concept. The who’s who of the fundraising world have been beating that drum hard for several years now, but nothing like what I’m hearing already in 2014. Evidence that the nonprofit sector is losing donors faster than it’s gaining them has added an urgency to a long-standing concern.

love_magnet_12552-1In case you’ve missed the message that donor retention is THE thing to which fundraisers should/must/need to give attention, here are links to some of what’s shown up in my email in box over the past couple of weeks.

Retention = Good Stewardship. That’s the thesis of a blog post by Lyn Watner, president of LMW Nonprofit Associates. She writes:

While growing your prospect pool is absolutely necessary, a solid donor/investor retention strategy will not only help to retain your current investors, it could enhance overall giving for the fiscal year by 10%. This finding was reported by a recent survey conducted by AFP and was published in the Urban Institute’s 2012 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report. Additional studies have indicated that in various situations many current investors are more likely to give five times more than a new one.

Put simply, it costs less to keep existing investors than to acquire new ones. The acquisition cost for time and the resources attached to cultivating prospects into investors is considerably higher than the costs associated with retention.

Retention begins with the first visit. In one of his great 10-minute video seminars, Henry Freeman stresses that how you handle the first interaction with a prospective donor is all important.

It lays the foundation for a relationship moving forward and sets the stage for deepening the relationship (and partnership) with that donor over time. In this context, making people comfortable during the first visit is one of the main things you want to accomplish.

Mind-blowing math. Fundraising guru Claire Axelrad leans hard on the numbers in making the case for attention to donor retention. In a blog article titled Your Secret to Mind-blowing Fundraising – Improve Donor Retention by Just 10%, she lists four “needs” that are essential for turning a first-time donor into a loyal supporter. The four are: a second gift strategy, a donor relationship strategy, a robust gratitude program, and a commitment to treating all donors – offline and online – the same.

Can they hear you now? The guys over at The Agitator (a go-to blog for me) make the obvious (but often overlooked) point that retention depends on what your donors hear. But getting heard these days is easier said than done. As Tom and Roger advise, “Excellent, stand-out creative is imperative these days. Relevance and stand-out creative are not a ‘chicken and egg’ matter anymore, they must go hand-in-glove.”

For help in cutting through the noise, Tom and Roger suggest four things to do.

  1. Get in the right mindset when crafting your message. You can’t take your donor’s attention for granted.
  2. Make the message relevant.
  3. Keep the message simple.
  4. Deliver with ‘knock their socks off’ creativity.

I urge you to join the drummers by making donor retention THE thing for your organization this year. You won’t be sorry. I promise.



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