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Roger Craver

Recent Posts by Roger Craver:

How to Keep Your Donors Giving Year After Year: Seven Revealing Factors You Need to Know

Year after year for the past decade, donor-retention rates have been sinking. Today they’re at an all-time low.

As more and more donors abandon ship, the cost of replacing them has grown so great as to be no longer affordable for most nonprofits.

It doesn’t have to be this way, as I show in my book Retention Fundraising. In those pages I outline a proven process for increasing donor retention.

Here I’ll touch on seven factors important for keeping your donors giving year after year.

Understanding Your Donors Is Crucial to Keeping Them

Understanding how donors feel about your organization and what role they want you to play in their lives is the starting point for your keeping them for years.

The key question you must answer is the one that resides subconsciously in every donor’s mind: How does this organization best enable me to make the difference I want to make?

How to uncover the answer to that question, and what resources you’ll need to do so, is the subject of my book, Retention Fundraising. Here I’ll focus on why answering the question is a bit trickier than you might imagine.

Want to Keep Your Donors? Then Answer These Unspoken Questions

The days of the seemingly infinite pool of new donors available to quickly and inexpensively replace those who have stopped their support are long gone. Today, as more and more donors abandon ship, the cost of replacing them has grown so great as to be no longer affordable for most nonprofits. 

Four Simple Ways to Keep Your Donors for Years

Whether your organization is huge, tiny, or in between, there are a number of ways to strengthen the loyalty of your donors. In my book Retention Fundraising, I describe literally dozens of strategies for retaining your donors for 5 years, 10 years, perhaps for life. Here, I’ll focus on four of the easiest. 

Easy Donor Retention Wins for Everyone


Excerpted from Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life

Whether your organization is huge, tiny, or in between, there are critical steps you can take to hold on to your donors and significantly boost their level of commitment.

In my book, Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life, I discuss a broad range of strategies. Here I'll focus only on six that are relatively easy and inexpensive to implement.

Identifying Donor Experiences That Drive Commitment


Excerpted from Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life

As I see it, the fundamental flaw in our conventional fundraising belief system is this:

"Donors are born, not made."

Those who believe this are convinced that if only they find the right data overlays, the right predictive models, or hit upon the right mailing lists and magic message, there's an enormous reservoir of new donors that'll come their way. Countless millions are futilely spent trying to break the supposed code.

Fortunately, there's a more accurate and actionable approach to take if you really want to improve commitment, retention, and donor lifetime value.

Establishing the proper relationship dynamics (i.e., reliability, consistency, fidelity, trust)—the so-called functional and personal connections that cause commitment—is crucial.

That's only part of the equation, however. What is equally important is identifying the range of organizational actions required to make a good donor, especially those driving the donor toward greater commitment.

We call these essential activities drivers.

Identifying Key Drivers of Donor Commitment

In a DonorVoice study of 250-plus organizations, donors were asked to rate 32 drivers in terms of importance to them. The 32 drivers were:

Personal Connection Drivers

  1. Timeliness of the organization thanking me for my support
  2. Sending a personalized thank-you for my support
  3. Thanking me for my support in a way that makes me feel good about my donation
  4. How regularly the organization thanks me for any ongoing support
  5. Providing me with a feeling of accomplishment made possible by my support
  6. Providing me with a feeling that my involvement is appreciated
  7. Providing me with a feeling of being part of an important cause
  8. Being an innovative charity
  9. Being focused on the mission
  10. Being a well-respected charity
  11. Providing me with opportunities to take action for the cause [e.g., sign petition, organize others, attend rally]
  12. Providing me with opportunities to get more involved [e.g., see the organization's work firsthand, meet staff, volunteer time]
  13. Providing me with opportunities to make my views known [e.g., solicit my opinion on where effort should be focused, make it easy to make suggestions.]
  14. Publicly recognizing my contribution

Functional Connection Drivers

  1. Informing me how my donation was used
  2. Explaining the tax benefits of my donation
  3. The organization's knowledge of the issues it focuses on
  4. Efficiently spending money
  5. Effectively trying to achieve its mission
  6. Using donations ethically
  7. Asking me for appropriate donation amounts
  8. Keeping me informed about how the organization is getting results
  9. Sending information that shows who is being helped
  10. Sending information that makes me glad I support the organization
  11. Sending information that reflects my specific interests
  12. Providing readable information
  13. The frequency of requests for donations
  14. The frequency of information not requesting donations
  15. Creating a sense in me that the organization would do a good job of responding to a complaint or question
  16. Knowing what to expect from the organization each time it interacts with me
  17. Communicating with me in the way I prefer [e.g., by mail, e-mail, phone, mobile device]
  18. Having a similar look and feel to all communications with me.

That's a long if not unwieldy list, I realize, but we wanted to survey donors with as many options as possible. So let's home in on the drivers and experiences donors found most important.

Here are the even key drivers we've identified that most influence donors. They've been scored and ranked in order of their relative importance in improving loyalty, commitment, and value:

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission.
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
  3. Donor receives timely thank-yous.
  4. Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known.
  5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause.
  6. Donor feels his or her involvement is appreciated.
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped.

Absent a study specifically focusing on your own organization, your retention efforts will be well served by placing your attention and efforts on these seven key drivers.

These drivers have a math-based, cause-and-effect relationship to loyalty and commitment. As you move donors from low to high commitment, the frequency, and amount of their giving will rise dramatically.

I'll venture that one of the most powerful, productive—and fun—sessions you and the key players in your organization can have is discussing and brainstorming actions you can put in place to enhance each of the seven key drivers and tailor them to your organization.

All that's required is an open mind, a pad of chart paper or a white board, and the creativity to adapt the drivers to your own organization.

The preceding is a guest post by Roger Craver. A fundraising pioneer since the 1960s, Roger brings an experienced and critical eye to the greatest problem faced by today's nonprofits: donor retention. He has conducted capital and annual fundraising campaigns, advocacy and membership drives in the United States, Canada, and throughout Europe.

Why Donors Leave

Excerpted from Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life

I'd just made what I felt was a mighty effective case for a major gift from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and was absolutely startled when he said, "No, I won't give!"

I was nonplussed. "May I ask why?"

His response: "Because of minced pie."

A bit dumbfounded, I eventually found my tongue. "What does minced pie have to do with giving to our alma mater?"

"Nothing," he said. "But when you don't want to give, one excuse is as good as another."

Fortunately, when it comes to donor defection, there aren't many "minced-pie" reasons for leaving. In general, we know why donors stop giving, and it's possible for every organization to identify the specific reasons donors quit it.

You might want to take a look at a Bloomerang infographic that's outlines the reasons why donors leave compared to the reasons consumers walk away from businesses.

It's worth exploring in some detail the reasons donors leave:

5%—Thought the charity didn't need them.
Clearly, if you don't tell donors about your needs, or, better yet, the beneficiaries you help, why should they bother staying with you? After all, they joined because they wanted to help.

8%—No information on how monies were used.
There are two key questions donors ask: 1) Why do you need my help? and 2) Did my contribution make any difference? Fail to answer these two questions and you'll lose your donors, especially as more skeptical "show-me" Baby Boomers and Generations Y and X come to the fore. Remember: if you neglect to tell 'em, there are thousands of other organizations that will.

9%—No memory of supporting.
If ever there were evidence of ineffective communication and branding, this is it. If you don't help a donor distinguish your organization from others, you're likely to be forgotten. Generalized or aspirational taglines such as "We work hard to feed the hungry" or "We offer excellence in a multi-cultural environment" serve only to reinforce donor amnesia.

13%—Never got thanked for donating.
Failure to thank a donor properly is bad manners and horrible fundraising. No act of omission more clearly signals, "We don't care. Just send the money." Is it any surprise organizations that behave rudely don't hold onto their donors?

No surprise here. Donors tend to be far older than the general population. Notice that the commercial world with far, far younger consumers loses only 1 percent because of mortality. If, however, you've treated your donors well, a small but special group will make their largest contributions at the end of life in the form of bequests or other planned gifts.

18%—Poor service or communication.
Relative to the minutiae we obsess about—our logo, the annual report, the mission statement—too many of us just don't grasp why spelling a donor's name correctly or promptly responding to inquiries and complaints is so important. We mistakenly treat donor service as a cost center, when in reality good service can add thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands to the bottom line.

36%—Others more deserving.
This statistic screams failure on the part of fundraising and communications departments. With more than a million groups clamoring for support, organizations that don't state a powerful case leave themselves wide open to donors defecting to similar groups.

54%—Could no longer afford.
This may be the mince-pie excuse in this lineup of reasons why donors stop their support. Experience shows that organizations that make strong cases and provide positive experiences usually avoid being cut as donors trim the list of groups they support due to changes in health, retirement, or reduction in income.

Do you note a pattern or common thread in these reasons for defection? With the exception of death and a donor's personal financial situation, every single one is entirely within the control of your organization. That's right, organizations through their own actions—or inactions—are severely jeopardizing their own retention rates.

Roger M. Craver
© 2014, Roger M. Craver. Excerpted from Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life. Excerpted with permission.

A fundraising pioneer since the 1960s, Roger Craver brings an experienced and critical eye to the greatest problem faced by today's nonprofits: donor retention. He has conducted capital and annual fundraising campaigns, advocacy and membership drives in the United States, Canada, and throughout Europe.

Questions I'm Most Often Asked About Keeping Your Donors for Life

The nonprofit sector is bleeding to death. It's hemorrhaging donors and losing millions monthly. Attrition is a horrible word. Its antonym, retention, has a golden ring to it.

What follows are the questions I'm most often asked about retaining loyal and committed donors.

Why do we hear so much about donor retention today?

Because for the past decade, donor-retention rates have been sinking. Today, they're at an all-time low. According to studies by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), every $100 raised from new donors is offset by $100 in losses because of attrition.

All this despite the facts:

  • Organizations have a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of obtaining additional gifts from an existing donor.
  • A 20 percent to 40 percent chance of obtaining an additional gift from a recently lapsed donor.
  • But less than a 2 percent chance of obtaining a gift from a prospective donor.

So one thing should be blindingly obvious. The bulk of your fundraising expenditures should be aimed at holding onto and building relationships with existing donors, not in acquiring new ones.

Are there primary reasons why donors stop giving?

Yes, I detail them at length in my book Retention Fundraising. In short the main reasons are:

  • Failure to properly thank and involve donors.
  • Failure to place the focus of communications on the donor, rather than the organization.
  • Failure to be consistent, both in message and in service delivery to the donor.

Organizations that brag about themselves and ignore donors will ultimately fail. Yet it's surprising how many organizations simply don't understand this.

Are there any easy, inexpensive steps we can take to hold onto our donors?

Surprisingly, there are. The three that come to mind quickest are:

  • Say Thanks. You don't have much competition here. Our research shows that more than 60 percent of all nonprofits thank their donors impersonally, slowly, or not at all.
  • Be Consistent. If you're consistent with your message you build trust. To a donor who gives money for feeding the hungry, switching the thank you to all the great stuff you're doing in the area of social justice is joltingly inconsistent, and you're likely to lose the donor.
  • Be Reliable. Just as in personal relationships, reliability is essential. If a donor calls your service center with a question or a request for an address change and is met with a rude or unknowledgeable representative, you're on your way to losing that donor. Don't stint on donor service. It's the best investment you can make.

What experiences or outputs of an organization matter most to donors?

It's certainly not because you have 10 regional offices, a bright CEO, or even a great rating among the charity watchdogs.

Donors "hire" an organization for a variety of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with what the organization thinks is important. That's why it's key to understand which organizational actions inspire donor loyalty. I call these "drivers."

I've identified more than three dozen in my book, but seven are essential if you hope to retain your donors.

Is there a way to tell if a donor is about to leave us?

These are the telltale signs that a donor is about to abandon ship:

  • Downgrading of gift levels
  • Unsubscribing from your various e-newsletter and email lists
  • Cancelling a recurring gift, such as a monthly retainer/sustainer payment
  • Negative comments about you in social media
  • Cancelling an event reservation

On the other side, are there obvious signs that a donor cares and is likely to be more loyal than others?

Absolutely. In my experience, the tip-offs are when he or she has:

  • Taken the time to complain
  • Reached out to change his/her address
  • Gone to the effort to have his/her gift matched by his/her employer
  • Attended a conference call briefing or actual meeting

The key to retention seems to be understanding donor attitudes. Is that correct?

Without a doubt. Attitude determines behavior. And that means donor behavior (giving) is determined by the actions you take to influence his or her attitude positively or negatively.

Few organizations understand that the actions they themselves take determine the donor's attitude—positively or negatively.

Importantly, all these positive and negative actions can be measured. The "good" reinforced. The "bad" eliminated, and the "weak" improved.

So if you could sum up the message in your book, it would be?

Not a single message, but several:

  • Donors are made, not born. It is the actions you take—not the economy, not the competition—that determine whether your donors will stay or leave.
  • You can measure commitment. This is not some fuzzy, loosey-goosey concept. There are methods, as outlined in the book, to determine what drives donors to you or away from you.
  • Retention is hard work. Unlike acquisition that is as easy as signing a purchase order, retention takes time, skill, evaluation, and investment.

But it's worth it, you're saying, and all this effort will ultimately produce loyal donors?

I'll go out on a limb and say that anyone who follows the recommendations that our research has uncovered can expect as much as a 130 percent increase in income in the next 36 months.

Roger Craver
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Roger Craver is author of the new book Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life.