If you’ve been to a fundraising conference lately, read an article or blog, or chatted with your colleagues you’ll know that retention is the current buzzword and biggest concern amongst fundraising professionals today. And so it should be.
The number one complaint donors have is accountability. We’re not telling them where their money goes. And if we are telling them, we’re not doing it well or enough.
Multiple studies confirm donor disappointment
Penelope Burk’s book, Donor Centered Fundraising, reports that 84% of the donors who participated in her research study for this book voiced dissatisfaction about the quality of information they receive from nonprofits they support.
The 2012 AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Survey reports that overall, charities are losing more donors than they are attracting or retaining.
And in The Agitator article titled Retention is the New Acquisition, Roger Craver tells us nonprofits are losing 70% of their new donors before getting a second gift.
What donors would like to tell you
Donors are thinking about it too - it’s their number one complaint about the charities they support. If donors could share that complaint with you, they just might do it like this:
Dear Fundraising Professional/Charity/Nonprofit:
You moved me. Your stories inspired me. I was saddened and angry, and most of all, hopeful that I could help. You told me my donations would make a difference.
I have sent you $50 at least twice a year for the last ten years or so. Maybe I missed a few times when I was sick or when my grandson was born, but I intended to send you those gifts. I’d gladly send more money, but first I’d like to know what you’re doing with the donations I already sent. Can you just tell me that please?!
How does my $50 make a difference?
Who did I help? What did my money buy? Beds? Food? Hope? Lives? Equipment? Care?
I enjoy your letters and emails. I believe that your organization does good work and that you’re necessary in today’s complex and challenging world. And honestly, I do want to make a difference. I want to know that I have helped humanity in some small way. I wish you were able to tell me that my gifts to you have done that.
I also wish you’d gotten back to me when I wrote you with my concerns last year.
Yesterday I sat down to go through my finances and organize my papers for my will. I’ve chosen four charities to be named in my will. I can’t even tell you how wonderful it made me feel to know that when I depart this earth, I will leave behind four distinct footprints that will help real people. My lifetime of savings will help children on the other side of the world, my local hospital, and homeless and abused women in my community.
I know exactly what my money will do because the four charities I’ve named in my will have been so helpful and open in sending me updates on their activities. I’m going to increase my annual giving to each of them.
I’m writing to you today to let you know I’m taking you off my list of charities I support. I’d like to focus my giving on the charities that make me feel good about my giving and help me understand the impact my donations have.
Wishing you all the best,
A once-loyal donor
P.S. I got a phone call the other day from one of my favourite charities. A board member called just to say ‘thank you.’ What a beautiful idea! I’m thinking I’ll join their special program to give monthly. It makes me feel great knowing I’ll be able to give more.
Are you the charity that would get this letter if donors took the time to write to you? Are you the charity experiencing 70% attrition on first time donors or 84% dissatisfaction amongst loyal donors? Do you have fewer donors this year than you did last year? Do you even know?
This isn’t rocket science. It is important. And it should be your priority.
How to hold on to your donors
Here are eight simple steps to improving your donor retention:
Jose Van Herpt is Principal and Chief Counsel at Good Works, a consulting firm that works with Canadian charities to engage donors at a truly human level and build donor loyalty and commitment. Jose welcomes your ideas, comments and criticisms about this tip. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.