Donor Retention: Time for a Change

Another great piece from Michael Rosen that’s definitely worth making a coffee and sitting down to read.

Donor Retention: Time for a Change

[Publisher’s Note: From time-to-time, I will invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’d like to learn about how to be a guest blogger, click on the “Authors” tab above.]

This week, I have invited international fundraising superstar Roger M. Craver, a direct-response fundraising pioneer, Editor at The Agitator, and author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life to share his wisdom with us.

However, do we really need a book about something as fundamental as donor retention? I believe we do. And so does Ken Burnett, Managing Trustee at SOFII and author of Relationship Fundraising. Here’s what Burnett says in the Foreword to Craver’s book:

Our nonprofit sector is bleeding to death. We’re hemorrhaging donors, losing support as fast as we find it, seemingly condemned forever to pay a fortune just to stand still.

It’s time we stemmed the flow.”

While the latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project report, developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute, shows that the nonprofit sector’s donor retention rate has improved for the first time in years, the number is still wretched. The nonprofit sector’s donor retention rate now sits at a shameful 43 percent! For every 100 new and renewed donors, 102 donors are lost through attrition.

As a sector, we must stop this donor churn. It’s expensive. It prevents organizations from building long-term relationships that lead to large current donations and significant planned gifts.

Read full article here

Are you visible?

Some organisations are screaming out for support to enable them to do their work however, some of these have no visibility – could this be holding them back?

Organisations that have a high profile, have easy recall with the public are more likely to gain sustained, ongoing support; whereas those who for whatever reason don’t shout out about what they’re doing miss out.

People will generally support organisations they have an affinity with or those that have a high profile, if you are not in either camp you’re going to miss out.

Communicating with supporters, current and lapsed is only part of it, organisations need to be keeping their message in front of people, not only at appeal time, but whenever possible.

If your supporters are seeing you and only see other organisations their allegiance can and will change.

But, importantly too, is that your visibility will help grow your supporter base.

Any organisation that doesn’t raise it’s head, wave it’s arms around and shout “here we and this is what we’ve done” will be left behind, growing a supporter base will be more difficult and people will bypass it for others that are readily identifiable.

Do you want to be left behind?

Are you sharing your stories, the good, the bad; how is this working for you?

Why aren’t you sharing your story, what impact are you noticing?

Does “brand recognition” make it easier for you to select what organisation you will support?

See also:




Recognise Regular Donors

Your regular donors generate your regular passive income, don’t ignore them and the contribution they are making to the success of your organisation.

Praise, praise, praise … it may sound trite but it is the best thing you can do to help retrain and recognise the importance of donors in your regular giving programme.

That’s not to say that they are better or more important the your one-off donors, it’s simply to recognise the importance they have in allowing your to manage the work you do, knowing that there is regular income that allows you to do what you do.

When communicating with regular donors; ask for feedback, feedback about who, why and how they give through the regular giving.  These can be used to help entice others to your programme.

Regular givers should be segmented in your database to allow for specific updates to be sent to this group.

Some organisations develop donor reports specifically for regular donors, and hold events for regular givers to give them the opportunity to invite others who may be interested in joining your regular giving programme (think Tupperware without the commission).

Remember that you should also bear in mind that, although any donor can be converted to a regular giving programme, you should never stop asking anyone for a one-off donations. Even though you’re receiving a regular contribution from your regular donors, this group are known to give more when asked for a one-off contribution to something specific.

Regular giving programmes can help with increasing donor contributions and can help to reactivate delinquent donors.

When talking with regular givers, make it personal, using this style of communication can help not only retain donors, but can also help reactivate those who have stopped giving.

Often the simple messages of how important regular giving is to help maintain the work carried out, who is benefiting from regular giving, and that regular giving allows work to be carried out with reduced administration and fundraising costs can too help regain donors.

Some organisations make a point of restating regular giving levels to help retain and regain donors, perhaps a donor who offered $50 per month has had a change in their personal circumstances, but by suggesting a lower level they will come back on board, what have you got to lose by asking for less when they’ve stopped giving altogether.

All donor communications are important, just because someone has said they will give on a basis doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear from you – perhaps they may even need to hear from you more often.  But, don’t make your communications too frequently – this could be a turn off.

How are you communicating with your regular donors?

Could you be communicating with regular donors more frequently or change your message?

Are you a regular giver through a regular giving programme – if so, what is your experience?

Regular Giving

Shops, restaurants, cafes all have customer loyalty programmes – why, because they (loyalty programmes) encourage regular patronage.

Charities should be embracing regular giving, why, because it cost effective, easy to manage for donor and charity, help with financial forecasting.

More typically, people have recall of larger organisation who have regular giving programmes, think World Vision, UNICEF, Save the Children; but in reality any organisation no matter its size can run a regular giving programme.

Don’t just set up a regular giving programme, you still need to plan how you will run it, the communications that will tie into it, how you will allow giving to be made; it’s no different to planning anything else.

Some thing to consider:

1.     Who will you invite

Not everyone in your database is suited to regular giving, some organisation prefer to use regular giving to reignite ‘dormant’, ‘delinquent’ donors.

However, it is a lot easier and gain regular giving pledges from supporters who give regularly.

Look at your donors who make their donation by credit card first, they’re more likely to take it up. But, don’t forget those who give by cheque, they can still be enticed to join your regular giving programm

2.    Make it easy

Promote your regular giving programme at every opportunity.

Have a prominent link on your website, talk about your regular giving programme in donor updates, invite donors to join your programme through messages on receipts and in annual updates.

3.    Have a clear message

Why would people want to sign up to your regular giving programme?

Give a clear message as to the benefits of regular giving, the donors and your organisation.

The simple message to donors is that it makes it easier for them to give.

Be upfront and let donors know that regular giving makes for easier financial management and that it helps reduce administration and fundraising costs.

Don’t forget to make sure your regular donors are being giving regular updates as to how they are helping.

4.    Points to consider

  • When will be the best time to receive regular giving pledges?
  • How can regular giving pledges be made?
  • Communicating, how will you communicate with those in your regular giving programme?
  • Receipts; will these be sent for each donation or will you have the ability to send an annual receipt?


Do you have a regular giving programme, what are the benefits you are seeing from it?

Is regular giving helping with donor retention?

Are you part of a regular giving programme with the organisations you support?


An email Doesn’t Always Cut It

Q: Are we relying too much on emails to communicate with our donors?

A: Yes

What I hear you say.

Simply put sometimes an email isn’t the best form of communication, yet many organisations are relying on email as a quick way to communicate, but often something is lost in translation and, true communication can be lost.

As a way to keep supporters aware of what your organisation has been doing, there’s quite often no better way, especially when cost is taken into account, but a personalised message can mean a lot more to your supporters than something that can be perceived as mass produced, something for the masses.

Every donor is different some are happy to receive no updates; others have higher expectations.

Some organisations have a rule that they make a personal call to donors who contribute above a certain amount, this is great, it can show to the donor that their support is appreciated.

Other organisations are quite content to stay with what they have been doing for years … post or email a receipt that gives some updates, but nothing that show that if it weren’t for Mrs Brown, they wouldn’t have been able to do what they have done.

By personalising messages, donor retention has more certainty, picking up the phone and calling the Mrs Browns who support will have the potential further grow support.

It’s a known fact in business that were there is personal interaction customers come back; it should be no different in the charity sector.

A recent post on 101Fundrasing had some great pointers from the “business world” that are easily adapted to the non-profit/charity sector.

“I am calling you, because …” 10 reasons to give your donor a call

Is well worth a read … perhaps you’ll see how you can better engage with donors and keep them as not only donors, but as advocates for your organisation.

How often are you communicating with your donors?

Do you have a communication strategy that shows when and how you communicate with supporters?

What have you learned from picking up the phone and speaking with supporters?

Pick up the phone and say Thank You

Don’t lose donors, respect them, acknowledge them.

An organization recently lost a major donor because they felt their support wasn’t really being appreciated.

Why, simple after sending in a substantial cheque on a regular basis all they’d hear back from the organization would be in the form a standard receipt, no acknowledgment of the impact the donation would have on the work that the organization carries out.

Result – support withdrawn. All the organization had to do was pick up the phone and call the donor, thank them and tell them how important they were to the work being carried out. 

Don’t make the same mistake. Acknowledge your donors.

How you acknowledge your donors is up to you, but make the point to acknowledge them. 

When was the last time you invited donors in to see your organization in action – you haven’t, then it’s time to change that, make this the year your do it. People who offer you help and support don’t necessarily want their names up in lights, many are happy to help and don’t want fame and glory – but they all deserve acknowledgment.

It doesn’t take much to pick up the phone and give a quick call. 

What’s more you don’t have to do it all yourself, you have Trustees, you have Board Members, get them to do help out. 

At what level of support you chose to call donor is the only ‘hard’ part – will you call donors who give $500, $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000. Depending on the size of your organization, the work frequency of support your gaining will determine this.

The donors you call may be the same ones you invite for a cuppa, you’ve got nothing to lose calling, thanking and inviting donors to see you at work – in-fact, truth be known you’ve got more to lose.

What are you waiting for, pick up the phone and start dialing.

Even if you’re only sending thank you letters, you need to do these right. This article from SOFII is a must read. 


Donor Retention or Acquisition

Every organization has the ongoing task of retaining donors, those who have stuck by you through thick and thin, those who have a real belief in what you do – those who want to see you succeed – these donors are part of your team and need to be retained. 

But retention is only part of the challenge of ongoing support for an organization, you need new blood, you need to have a donor acquisition programme.

This article on Achieve Guidance has some great points and is well worth a read Time to Join the Donor Revolution