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Four Simple Ways to Keep Your Donors for Years

Four Simple Ways to Keep Your Donors for YearsWhether 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. 

Be boring 

Most of us get bored with our organization’s messages long before our donors do. So we’re constantly fiddling with new copy and clever new ways to describe our mission and programs. 

As a result, we waste vast amounts of time and money. All this tinkering may relieve staff boredom, but when we alter or deviate from our organization’s core message, we risk confusing donors and driving them away. 

Be especially vigilant about consistent messaging when it comes to first-year donors. A person who makes an initial gift in response to an appeal focusing on abused cats and dogs isn’t as likely to make a second gift if thanked with a letter or email touting the organization’s initiative save porpoises and whales. 

Give donors lots of opportunities to talk back 

All successful relationships, including those with donors, require the give and take of two-way communication. Yet many of us fail to seek feedback from our donors. In fact, a majority of organizations relegate it to a banal response tactic such as placing a survey on the reply form, or forcing the donor to hand-write a note on the same reply form, only to have it summarily tossed when it reaches the organization’s mail room. 

Every organization regardless of size or sophistication has dozens of opportunities to solicit feedback. Two simple ones: send a brief email survey to donors after every contact to ask whether their needs were met; install a pop-up website survey to determine users’ level of satisfaction in finding the information they seek. 

With a little thought, you’ll easily identify a handful of additional ways that are suited to your particular organization. 

Pick up the phone 

I’m continually surprised at how little the telephone is used to bolster donor commitment and retention (perhaps commercial telemarketers have spooked us). 

But other than a face-to-face meeting with donors, there’s nothing better than a phone conversation when it comes to listening, interacting, sharing values, and building trust. 

And it’s not just thank-you overtures that work. Telephone calls inviting donors to join monthly giving programs, for example, can yield a 10-times greater response rate than direct mail, according to studies by the analytics firm DonorTrends. 

Overall, donors who have been phoned for one reason or another (it doesn’t seem to matter) show retention rates 15 percent higher than those who haven’t been called. 

Say thank-you 

The art of saying thank-you is arguably the greatest key to building great relationships. Unfortunately, it’s often ignored. Many organizations take weeks, sometimes months to acknowledge gifts. Others never even get around to it. 

Even the word “acknowledgment” is wrongheaded. As nonprofit communications expert Erica Mills puts it, “An acknowledgment doesn’t make the recipient feel war and fuzzy about what they’ve done. It makes them remember that soon they’ll have to file taxes. That’s stressful, not joyful.”

To be sure, acknowledgments are necessary but they’re not sufficient. What is required are warm, personal, and relevant thank-yous. You’ll not only stand out for good manners. You’ll be laying the groundwork for increasingly larger gifts for years to come. 

Four Simple Ways to Keep Your Donors for YearsRoger Craver is the author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life, from which this post is adapted.

Topics: Fundraising Donor Retention