10 things that will make your donors say “Wow!” | Nonprofit donor retention strategies

September 2, 2013

Why, oh why are nonprofit organizations failing to retain their donors?  The 2012 Fundraising Effectiveness Report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals shows that donor attrition rates are still in the toilet.

According to the report, which incorporated data from 3,184 responses:

  • Every $100 gained in 2011 was offset by $100 in losses through attrition
  • Every 100 donors gained in 2011 was offset by 107 in lost donors through attrition

What’s going on here?

Nothing could be as gratifying or rewarding as stewarding your donors, yet it’s clear from these latest statistics that we’re still not getting it right.

Take a cue from my oh so fabulous subscribers and members, who are using fun and novel ways to deepen their relationships with their donors.  What tips could you swipe?

1.  The one thing that we have done in the last 6 months to build better relationships with our donors is to emphasize the importance of face-to-face meetings to share thoughts and ideas (*not* for an ask) between board members and donors.  Our board members had a goal of how many donors they were supposed to reach out to, and how many meetings they were supposed to have.  Reporting on these meetings at our board meetings makes it an action item with accountability and we are seeing results!
Jennifer Johnson
Director of Development and Outreach
The Nature Connection

2.  The one thing that we, here at KVIE Public Television, implemented in the last 6 months was regular thank you calls by board members.

At first only a few participated but once they started having a fun chatting with donors, more and more volunteered! Plus having Penelope Burk’s statistics on the matter was really helpful: “In a survey, 95% of donors said they’d be grateful if a board member called to thank them and 86% said they’d consider giving a larger gift.” Board member: “Where do I sign up?” Can’t wait to see what comes of it!

PS – THANK YOU for the Grow Report. I love grabbing my cup of coffee to settle in for the BlogRoll and some great insights. It’s my morning awesome sauce!
Johnny Avots-Smith
Leadership Giving Officer
KVIE Public Television

3.  The one thing that we implemented was homeowner thank you notes. Our stewardship had been a form letter from the CEO with standard, mission centric language.  The homeowners started hand writing notes saying what a new home meant to them and their families. We actually received donor calls saying, “that’s the first time I’ve ever received a note like that.”

Thanks for all you do and your invaluable insights!
Lisa Barr
VP of Development
Habitat for Humanity of Brevard County, Inc.

4.  The one thing that we do is to send at least one hand written thank you per day, just to say thank you. It has been great and I have found it means so much to our donors.
Lisa Wells
Down Syndrome Indiana

5.  The one thing that we now do: cookies at every meet and greet. Everyone loves cookies 🙂
Christina Hanna
Glendale, CA

6.  The one thing that we have implemented in the past 6 months to improve our communication with donors is an Impact Update. It differs from the newsletter created by our communications department, in that it is less a report on what WE have done, and more an update on what the DONOR has made possible through their gift. Donors receive updates twice each year – 4 months after their gift, and 9 months after their gift – and we have both email and postal mail versions depending on their mailing preferences. Since we have just started the updates, I have included a brief survey asking donors for their feedback. Our first email version had a 33% open rate, and no opt-outs.
Penny Campbell
Donor Relations Associate
Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon

7.  The one thing that we have done to deepen relationships with donors is to talk to them and thank them personally.  In at least two instances, the personal connection after the first donation resulted in an increase in subsequent donations.
Lin Nelson-Mayson
University of Minnesota

8.  The one thing that we put into place is the strategy taken from Susan Howlett’s  Boards on Fire book, but also in the Christopher Davenport video.

I took notes during the video (and also bought the book) and she gives 10 very specific steps to engage busy board members who are dipping their toe into the fundraising waters for the very first time – or have had bad experiences in the past (like being thrown in without any swimming lessons). We’re on step three and we’re getting incredible responses from donors, but also the board members are enjoying their role as “thank you ambassadors.”  Come on in, the water’s fine!

When our board meets again after the summer, I intend to implement the three stories every board member should be able to tell from your video interviewing Christopher himself on Storytelling for Board Members (from your e-course Nonprofit Storytelling – which my marketing director and I went through together, discussing what we want to share and implement with board and staff. I highly recommend it!).

Thanks for sharing your knowledge so generously to help others,.

Ruth Jones
Director of Fund Development
Presbyterian Manor

9.  The one thing that we have implemented in the last six months is sending exclusive trip reports to specific donors. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has six senior associates that make nearly-monthly trips to Latin America to work with partner organizations on human rights issues in the region. When they return, they write up a one-page report on what they did and the outcomes they hope to see from the trip. We then send these updates from the senior associate’s email account, as a one-on-one communication to a handful of donors who are interested in the topic, noting it is an exclusive update for them. We try to rotate which donors we send to so that each of our donors who gives over $500 gets at least one of these communications every 6 months (or that is the goal at this point, we haven’t been doing it long enough to hit everyone yet). So far we’ve gotten a great response, as the donors reply to the senior associates and it starts a relationship between a non-fundraising staff person and our donors.
Kelly McLaughlin
Washington Office on Latin America

10.  The one thing that we did was to change the focus of our annual meeting from a dull insider’s event for the staff and board to an engaging, inclusive event for our donors. We also used the revamped annual meeting as a “good excuse” to call our top 100 donors to thank them for their continued generosity and to personally invite them attend.
Kent E. Fillinger Director of Partnerships
CMF International

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