Monday, 17 September 2012

Making friends for life: practical insights to help you retain your charity’s donors

What is the primary purpose of fundraising? – To raise enough money for our charity’s work – you might say. Wrong answer!  

Let’s approach this question in another way. Sure your charity needs money to carry out its programmes but where is the money coming from? – From donors, individuals, trusts, wealthy people, churches etc. So, what a fundraiser or a fundraising team does is develop and implement a fundraising plan to engage with individuals, churches, businesses or trusts and invite their support.

In this context of engaging with people and organisations - the primary purpose of fundraising is to help you find and keep your charity’s donors!  

Once an individual, a church or a business has made a gift to your charity it is vital that they renew their support in the future. You probably know from experience that finding new donors is a costly business so the only way a charity can benefit from such new donors is when most of them give again and again and again.

Many fundraising advisers, including your boss, would tell you to work hard at retaining donors – by doing this you wouldn't have to acquire new ones very often. At face value this seems like the right advice but, when you take a closer look at the return on investment (ROI) from your donor retention activities you
are likely to discover that retaining donors can be harder and sometimes even more expensive than acquiring new donors.

Over the years, working with a variety of charity clients I have noted that retention rates can be affected by many factors including:

  • the quality of the newly acquired donors and their propensity to keep giving, 
  • the timing and frequency of a charity’s appeals, 
  • the efficiency and warmth of thank you letters, 
  • the content of appeals,
  • the presence or absence of a regular giving programme, etc.  

Another factor that has a huge negative impact on retention is the assumption that the majority of donors are not going to renew their support because they have received too many requests for money! In my opinion, the opposite is true – a decrease in retention rates represents a failure to ask donors in a compelling
and inspiring way to make another gift to your cause. Here is a simple truth: if you are not grabbing a donor’s attention you are not going to get their gifts!

If you want to retain 60%, 70% even 80% of your charity’s donors and turn them from one-off givers to long term friends consider some of these insights.  I have already seen client’s retention rates moving in the right direction by doing the following:

  1. Thank your donors within 48 hours of receiving their donation.  
  2. Make time to call as many of your charity’s donors as possible - not to ask them for a gift, but simply to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ for their support.  
  3. Re-use a fundraising package that you know works well to ensure that your first time donors make that valuable second gift. 
  4. Develop and implement a regular giving programme inviting donors to make monthly contributions to your cause. 
  5. Strengthening the impact of direct mail appeals by using follow up emails. 
  6. Don’t let donors disappear into thin air! 
  7. Incorporate ‘soft’ fundraising asks in your newsletters.  

But be aware, that whatever you do you are not likely to retain all of your charity’s donors – some of them will stop giving and you will never know why. But, rather than trying to guess why they stopped giving you can focus on acquiring new donors and on implementing some of these insights and other ideas that can help you retain your charity’s donors.

Finally, make sure you are always measuring the impact of your retention activities and are learning from your successes and your mistakes.

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