Retention Fundraising | A Review

September 18, 2014

Flashback to 2000.  I was working in my first nonprofit development job for a small regional nonprofit — an organization with the typical fundraising complaints – magnified three times.  In a matter of days I realized that fundraising and systems were both a mess.   What to focus on first?  Our most highly regarded volunteer told me, “If you can turn our membership program around, you’ll be golden.”

But how? The ‘annual’ campaign had been farmed out to five different mail companies in about as many years. The resulting mailings had been glossy, expensive pieces. Many donors received as many as eight packs.

Our aging donor base was leaving in droves.

Even worse, our board, having been sold a bill of goods by various companies, was leery, and I was given no acquisition budget.

In marketing, the most important lesson I ever learned is that your existing customer base is your single best resource for future sales.

retention-fundraising-1407255401So I reached out personally to a handful (20) of our most loyal donors for answers. These were folks who had stayed with us for at least seven years, through lousy to none at all stewardship. People who had received as many as, yes, eight pieces of our hideous mailing, and continued to support our work. People who had never received so much as a thank you letter, let alone a call. People who had no idea whatsoever about what sort of impact their gift was making.

The resulting campaign to our house file alone raised nearly a third more than the previous year’s campaign, which had included both our tiny house file and a list rental of 70,000. We brought over 100 new donors on board. And we spent 31% less than the previous year.

That was my first experience with retention fundraising.

You can call it that, you can call it donor-centered fundraising, you can call it smart fundraising. When your overriding focus is on the donor, rather than being mission-centric or organization-centric, you win.

What’s more, your donors win.

Roger Craver’s new book, Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life, is an essential for every fundraiser who is serious about their work. To those of you plotting out your own ‘ice-bucket challenge,’ know that there is simply no topic in fundraising more critical right now than donor retention.


Do you think you know what you need to do? This book is about more than merely crafting your best thank you letter (although that helps), more than your welcome kit, more even than that thank you call. Roger knows that

“Understanding how donors feel about your organization and what role they want you to play in their lives is the starting point for improving retention rates.”

(Blow that up and hang it over your desk.)

Retention Fundraising will give you new ways of thinking about how to experience your organization from your donor’s perspective, and eliminate the guesswork in your donor retention program.

You’ll learn scads of easy to implement retention wins, including, of course improving your thank you letters, and figuring out your donor service systems. And you’ll learn one of my favorites: Be boring (read the book to find out why).

Buy this book. And share it with your board and staff.

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