Do you know your Donor Retention numbers? Here’s how you can improve them.

by Harvey McKinnon on April 11th, 2022

Donor Retention: It’s TOP of everyone’s mind

Or at least it should be. These days, it’s more important than ever to focus on donor retention. Even a small increase in donor loyalty will have a big impact on your fundraising results.

Of course, the first and most important tip is to know your donor retention numbers. Get intimate with them. Know the attrition rates of donors recruited in each channel of your donor program (like direct mail, street face-to-face, door-to-door, and online). And keep track of them, because a modest increase in attrition will dramatically change the long-term value of each of these groups of donors. It will also show you where to focus your donor stewardship, and your donor recruitment budget.

Below you’ll find our ten top tips on boosting your donor loyalty. Get in touch with us if you’d like to talk about this some more. Happy reading!


#1: Improve your ask, and ask more often

Do you ever have to be reminded to do something? Especially something that’s optional such as a magazine subscription or making a donation to a charity? One of the most effective techniques to renew more donors is to communicate with them more often. The frequency of communication depends on two factors: your current communication schedule and the channels you use.

Our testing shows that increased communication renews far more donors and raises much more net money for good causes. Similarly, the quality of your creative – copy and design – makes a dramatic difference. Your creative can boost the number of gifts you get from 10% to 100% or more.

We increased the donor renewal rate for a major hospital from 38% to 56%. Just one extra mailing, and a stronger creative, has led to a significant increase in donors giving year after year.


#2: Get donors to give through more than one channel

The results are in, and they prove that multi-channel giving boosts donor value. So play around with mailing your donors and then calling them. Or calling them and then emailing them. Add in a bit of social media. Hire trained canvassers to recruit monthly donors at your events. And most importantly, cross-reference your data so you understand how your donors really give. Down with silos – up with channel-mix!

Recently a client ran an extremely successful monthly donor drive. With the help of a deadline, a target, and a matching-gift donor, they beat their target of new monthly donors by 50%. Their optimum channel mix was email and telephone, along with online video thank-you’s.


#3: Be emotional, and tell inspiring stories

Do you know how many patients our local hospital treated last year? Probably not. But will you remember the story of a person who was torn nearly in two after a horrific accident near the Sea-to-Sky highway? And who survived because of the amazing work of the doctors and nurses who operated on him 78 times! Yes, you probably will.

There’s a reason story-telling has been such a large part of our lives since Beowulf. Stories stick in our heads. They touch our hearts in a way that statistics and facts never will. Fire up your donors’ enthusiasm by telling them a story they’ll remember. And help them understand that the happily-ever-after part is up to them.


#4: Thank your donors FAST and FREQUENTLY

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Thanking someone for doing something nice makes them feel great. It makes them feel like doing something nice again. Like donating to your charity!

Yet, HMA’s mystery shopper program shows that there are still so many organizations that are terrible at thanking their donors. They are late to thank – taking weeks or even months to get a letter out. Or send form letters that have nothing to do with the appeal a donor replied to. They get vital information wrong. Or, tragically – some don’t thank at all.

On a positive note, some organizations do a fantastic job of thanking donors. And they see great results: donations up 35% after thank-a-thons. Notes from donors thanking them for their thank-you letter. These things matter to people.


#5: Develop a Donor Lifecycle Map

Donor Maps are great. Our clients print them out and pin them above their desks, so they can remember what we all agreed to do to help them keep their donors happy and loyal. A new member of staff in the donor relations team? They get the map as part of their training. Is it time to send a monthly donor upgrade? Just consult the map.

And the mapping process itself is great, too. It really helps you see where the big gaps are in your stewardship.


#6: Build trust: Tell donors what you’ve done with their gifts

Donors want to know that their donation went where you told them it would. And when they see their donation was put to good use, they’re much more likely to make another gift.

Write specific thank-you letters that follow up on the appeal a donor replied to. Be as specific as you can. “We’ll help feed 25 hungry people.” “You helped us purchase a new scanner.” “Yesterday, we learned that Hamid has been set free!”

Newsletters are a vital tool to give donors feedback. Copy should always focus on how donors made your success stories happen. And don’t dispense with your print newsletter, no matter how much money it will save you. We interviewed a selection of one client’s major donors recently. The top complaint of a $250,000 donor we spoke to was that she missed the newsletters she used to get and displayed for guests on her coffee table.

As you can imagine, our client has pressed the ‘print’ button on their newsletters again.


#7: Be personal and focus on the donor

Donors don’t want to feel like an ATM, so put them front and centre in everything you do.

Personalize all your communications to them. Get their names right. Know how they like to be addressed. If they are a monthly donor, a member of your mid-level club, a super-loyal, or a legacy pledger – make sure you acknowledge that special status right away. And make sure that the word “You” far outnumbers the word “We” in all copy that you write.

Embrace the capture-culture, and keep all the tidbits of information you can on your donors. Do they have pets? Children? When’s their birthday? The anniversary of their first gift to your organization? Can you take five minutes to send them a clipping with a little note about something you know that they care about? You’ll make that investment back in loyalty.


#8: Know why your donors stop giving

When you discover why a donor stops giving, you gain valuable insight into how to get them back, and how to do a better job of retaining similar donors in the future.

This applies to both single-gift donors and monthly donors. Maybe one of your monthly donors is having a tough financial time, and could use a “monthly giving holiday” for a while. If you ask, there’s a good chance they’ll say ‘yes’ to you calling them in a few months’ time to ask if they’ll renew their support.

For single-gift donors, lapsed donor surveys are also a great tool. Ask them why they stopped supporting you. You may find that they didn’t feel they were making a difference. Now you have an action you can take – making sure you’re doing a better job of showing donors the impact of their gifts.


#9: Know your numbers

If you’re like many people in the non-profit sector, you don’t dig into your numbers in great detail. But by doing so you are investing time that can really boost your retention.

A proper analysis of your results, creative, and donor base will show you who renews, who isn’t renewing, and what motivates your donors to give. This leads to better strategies and more strategic investment decisions. For instance, you will find that donors from one channel will have a renewal rate that’s often 1,000% greater than another channel. Donors have different long-term values, and that determines where you should invest your money.

Case Study:
We analysed a new client’s file and discovered they were wasting money mailing to people who likely would never give again. We stopped mailing to these unproductive names and saved the client $100,000 a year. When we took over their in-house program we increased their net income by $500,000 in one year.


#10: Convert to monthly

Many of the organizations we work with have donor retention rates of more than 90%. It’s as close as you can get to a donor giving you gifts forever.

The lifetime value of a monthly donor is often more than $2,000. We have worked with non-profits across Canada, USA, Australia, and Europe. And in every country, the highest donor
renewal rates come from committed monthly donors.

Harvey’s book Hidden Gold has helped thousands of organizations globally raise millions and millions of dollars. Get in touch with us and we’ll let you know how to download a version for a discounted price.

Case Study
Recently we started building a monthly giving program for a major US nonprofit. In less than eight months, we increased the number of people in the program by 600%. With their anticipated investment in the program, they will earn an additional net income of $40 million in just five years.


Here is another number you need to know…

If you need to acquire more donors, boost your net revenue, or increase the long-term value of your donors, we should talk. Please contact us today.

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