Top Secret: Underused Strategy to Keep Donors Close

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By Claire Axelrad

Did you know as many as 81% percent of new donors don’t return to give again? And only 43% of all donors remain loyal?

The sorry state of donor retention has been a topic of discussion for at least the past decade, since the Fundraising Effectiveness Project began collecting data. Yet too many nonprofits still don’t prioritize donor retention strategies.

A prompt, personal, powerful thank you is the bare minimum. A “one and done” transactional approach won’t build a relationship.

What do you do to keep donors close?

Top Retention Secret: Concise, Consistent Gratitude and Impact Reports

If you want future gifts, you must give present ones. Consistent communications on impact are the greatest gift you can offer. These begin with a prompt, personal and powerful thank you and continue with at least quarterly “Thank you; this is what your gift makes possible” messaging.

Open and read rates improve with concision. The donor must perceive the communication as a pure gratitude and impact report, not another solicitation. Even just the foregoing sentence, with a link to a story or brief video, is sufficient.

Use whatever channel your donors respond to most, but try to be consistent. Multichannel marketing is generally important, especially for donor acquisition (you never know where folks may encounter you), a gratitude report is something you want donors to eagerly anticipate. If a quarter receive email, the next a postcard and the next a newsletter, they may not put scattered pieces together and feel looped in and loved.

Don’t worry about information overload. A survey by esteemed researcher Penelope Burk asked donors “what could unleash your philanthropy at a whole new level?” Nearly half said they weren’t giving at full potential because they hadn’t received enough information about how their philanthropy had been spent.

How to Do It: Three Easy Tactics to Keep Donors Close

Want to simply communicate results the donor’s gift makes possible? Pick the tactic that most resonates with you. I recommend sending as frequently as monthly to keep a close connection (especially for sustainer donors), but at least quarterly.

1. Email a Photo, Caption and Quick Story

This can take the form of a dedicated email, e-news or blog. I receive a heartwarming gratitude report every single month from Vida Joven. Do I look forward to them and open them religiously? Wouldn’t you?

  1. It’s personalized.
  2. It shares a joyful photo.
  3. It clearly describes the problem, solution, and impact of my monthly gift.

2. Text message with thank you video

A quick video can be made via a mobile phone or even Zoom recording. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it’s almost better if it isn’t. Here’s an example from We See You. This puts a human face on how much the donor’s philanthropy matters. (Want see how this works? Get this delivered to your own phone by texting TYVIDEO to 24365. After listening, you’re also directed to the website to learn more — a nice feature.)

3. Postcard with Photo, Caption and Handwritten Note

The note can be from someone the recipient would perceive as a VIP, someone they know/like or a beneficiary (real or imagined, like a tree or painting). Here’s a simple example from The Living Coast Discovery Center that works even if you don’t have the ability to personalize. Even better would be to design the card so there’s enough white space to add a handwritten personal note for a selected group of donors (e.g., monthly, above $500, 10-plus-year donor, board or committee member, direct service volunteer, etc.).

Here’s an image from the Smithsonian National Zoo I found posted on social media. It could easily be adapted to a postcard. Get creative and you’re sure to capture your donor’s attention.

Bonus Calls to Action

While you don’t want to dilute the purity of your gratitude and impact message with a blatant money pitch, there are other tactics you might weave in from time to time to boost donor engagement. Anything you do to make donors feel engaged and valued as team members, not just checkbooks, makes them likelier to continue giving. Here are 40 call to action examples that drive engagement, from learning more to subscribing to becoming an ambassador and more. I particularly like these three:

1. Add a Donor Connection Survey

People like it when you listen. And it’s cool for them to be able to help you sometimes without making another monetary gift. Some donor CRMs make it possible for you to pretty much automate this survey. It’s not hard, however, to create your own.

Here’s an example from the ACLU that flatters, reinforces shared values and makes the donor an integral part of ongoing impact.

2. Add Share Links

Folks can leverage their giving by creating broader awareness of your mission among their networks. Did you know approximately one in three donations to peer-to-peer campaigns come directly via social media sharing? Technology now empowers folks to take control and share what they’ve done. Empower them!

  • Include easy-to-find share buttons, clickable links or icons everywhere you can (e.g., home page, other website pages, blog posts, e-news and social media).
  • Don’t forget email. It’s still the No. 1 way many people share.

3. Add a Subtle ‘Support’ Button

Hate to see an inspiring communication go to waste? Sometimes folks will be moved to give again. Or, they’ll forward your message to a friend who may consider giving for the first time. You want to make this easy. As long as you don’t make an explicit ask, and the button is placed strategically (i.e., not the first thing donors see) and worded gently (e.g., support, partner, give), this can be a powerful engagement and revenue-generating strategy.

A Plugged-in Donor Is a Loyal Donor

When connected to family, friends and community we’re steadfast and true. We’re aware of what’s going on, so keep in touch as appropriate. When needed, we’ll drive our friend to the airport, ER or a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes we’ll just reach out with a casserole, baked goods or a supportive phone call.

But out of sight is out of mind. When disconnected, the relationship breaks down. Loyalty is transferred elsewhere. If the last time you talked to a friend was a year ago, you might find it odd when they called to ask you for a favor today.

Donors are the same; they need you to connect. If they’ve barely heard from you since receiving the thank you for last year’s gift, they’re unlikely to feel warm and fuzzy — let alone passionate — toward you.

A recent study found of people who donate regularly:

  • 75% seek information about the nonprofit’s impact.
  • 63% try to find information on the issue the nonprofit addresses.
  • 56% want a list of specific projects the nonprofit supports.

These are your marching orders: Consistently. Send. Information. Donors. Want.

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