Underutilized strategy to keep donors close

Did you know that up to 81% of new donors don’t come back to give again? And only 43% of all donors stay loyal?

The sad state of donor retention has been a topic of discussion for at least the past decade, since the Fundraising Effectiveness Project started collecting data. Yet too many nonprofits still fail to prioritize donor retention strategies.

A quick, personal, and powerful thank you is the bare minimum. A “one and done” transactional approach will not build a relationship.

What are you doing to keep donors close?

Retention Top Secret: Concise and Consistent Gratitude and Impact Reporting

If you want future gifts, you must give present ones. Consistent impact communications are the greatest gift you can give. These begin with a quick, personal, and powerful thank you and continue with at least a “Thank you; ; that’s what your donation makes possible” message.

Open and read rates improve concisely. The giver should view the communication as a pure report of gratitude and impact, not another solicitation. Even the previous sentence, with a link to a story or a short video, is enough.

Use the channel your donors respond to the most, but try to be consistent. Multi-channel marketing is generally important, especially for donor acquisition (you never know where people might meet you), a gratitude report is something you want donors to look forward to. If one quarter receives an email, the next a postcard, and the next a newsletter, they may not be putting the scattered pieces together and feeling loopy and loved.

Don’t worry about information overload. A survey by renowned researcher Penelope Burk asked donors “what could unleash your philanthropy on a whole new level?” Almost half said they were not giving as much as possible because they had not received enough information about how their philanthropy had been spent.

How To: Three Easy Tactics to Keep Donors Close

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

1. Email a Photo, Caption, and Quick Story

This can take the form of a dedicated email, an e-news or a blog. I receive a heartwarming report of gratitude every month from Vida Joven. Do I look forward to them and open them religiously? Is not it?

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

2. SMS with thank you video

A quick video can be made via mobile phone or even Zoom recording. It doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it’s almost better if it’s not. Here is an example of we see you. It puts a human face on the importance of donor philanthropy. (Want to see how it works? Get it on your own phone by texting TYVIDEO to 24365. After listening, you’re also directed to the website for more – a neat 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 is a simple example of The Living Coast Discovery Center it works even if you don’t have the option to customize. Even better would be to design the card so that there is enough white space to add a personal handwritten note for a selected group of donors (eg monthly, over $500, donor over 10 years, member board or committee, direct service volunteer, etc.).

Here is a picture of the Smithsonian National Zoo I found posted on social media. It could easily be adapted as 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 message of gratitude and impact with blatant money talk, there are other tactics you could use 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 more likely to keep giving. Here is 40 examples of calls to action that drive engagement, whether to learn more, subscribe, become an ambassador, etc. I particularly like these three:

1. Add a Donor Login Survey

People love when you listen. And it’s cool for them to be able to help you sometimes without making another monetary donation. Some donor CRMs let you roughly automate this survey. However, it is not difficult 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

People can leverage their gifts by creating wider awareness of your mission among their networks. Did you know that about one in three donations to peer-to-peer campaigns come directly from sharing on social media? Technology now allows people to take control and share what they have done. Strengthen them!

  • Include easy-to-find share buttons, clickable links, or icons wherever you can (eg, homepage, other website pages, blog posts, e-news, and social media).
  • Don’t forget the email. This is still the #1 way many people share.

3. Add a subtle “support” button

Do you hate seeing inspiring communication go to waste? Sometimes people will be pushed to give again. Or, they’ll forward your message to a friend who might be considering donating for the first time. You want to make this easy. As long as you don’t make an explicit request and the button is strategically placed (i.e. it’s not the first thing donors see) and gently worded (e.g., to support, to associate, to give), it can be a powerful engagement and revenue-generating strategy.

A connected donor is a loyal donor

When we are connected to family, friends and community, we are unwavering and loyal. We’re aware of what’s going on, so stay in touch if needed. If necessary, we will drive our friend to the airport, to the emergency room or to a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes we just reach out with a casserole, some pastries, or a supportive phone call.

But out of sight is out of mind. When disconnected, the relationship breaks. Loyalty is transferred elsewhere. If it’s been a year since you last spoke to a friend, you might find it odd that they’re calling to ask you a favor today.

The donors are the same; they need you to connect. If they’ve barely heard of you since receiving last year’s Thank You Gift, they’re unlikely to feel warm and fluffy – leave alone keen – toward you.

A recent study found people who donate regularly:

  • 75% seek information on the association’s impact.
  • 63% try to find information on the problem addressed by the association.
  • 56% want a list of specific projects supported by the association.

These are your marching orders: Constantly. Send. Information. Donors. Want to.


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