Slowing Down the (Donor) Revolving Door, Part 2

If you’ve been around the block a time or two as a fundraiser, you already know that donor attrition is a fact of life. Many donors stop giving because they die, lose their jobs, go on fixed income or some other reason.

But some just stop giving. And that’s what should be keeping you up at night.

Last week I wrote about first-time donors and some proven methods for retaining them. This week, our focus moves to multi-gift donors. You’re still going to lose some, but with a bit of creative thinking and smart strategy, you can reduce that number.

First, look at what you are sending your donors. On a large table, spread out the letters (and envelopes), the newsletters, printed copies of e-mails, reports, receipts and whatever else you use to communicate to donors (other than living human beings; they usually don’t like being plunked on a tabletop).

Stand back a few feet and walk around the table, looking in general at the donor communications you’ve assembled. What catches your eye, good and bad? Are you seeing great photos, colorful pieces, enough variety? Remember, we are a visual bunch of people; if all you have been worrying about are words, you may not be truly communicating to your donors. What do they see when they glance quickly at your mail or e-mail?

Make note of any changes you need to make to avoid boring your donors. Does anything need a face-lift to be as engaging as possible? Do you need to spend a little bit more to make your communications a whole lot more inviting? Engaged donors are more likely to be giving donors.

Secondly, make sure you aren’t over-asking — or under-asking.
Is it easy to give to your organization because almost every mailing (including your newsletter) includes an envelope and (usually) a reply form prepopulated with the donor’s name and address? Are you asking donors to write their information in tiny boxes or lines that require them to write in 4-point type? Does clicking on a link in an e-mail take the potential donor immediately to the donation page, or does he or she have to wander through two, three or even four more pages to accomplish the goal of giving?

You’re way too close to your own communications. Ask someone else to look at them and give you an honest opinion. Don’t argue. It’s easy to fall in love with our own fundraising efforts or decide “that’s just the way it has to be” after a while. Donors aren’t usually as enamored (or as forgiving).

Third, figure out where your danger zone is. This is when you get to be a data analyst. Where are more donors likely to stop giving than at any other point? Is it after three gifts or three years? Ten gifts or 10 months? You may have more than one danger zone, but begin with the worst offender.

Now the fun begins. What are creative ways you can reignite the passion your donors once felt before they completely stop giving? A word of caution here: There is no “one size fits all” solution. You have to consider the timing of your danger zone, the makeup of your audience, your mission, your total communications program, etc., and come up with a solution that works within all those boundaries. But to get you started creatively and strategically, I’ll share an example — not for you to copy, because it probably won’t work for you. Use it instead as a springboard for strategic thinking.

Careful analysis revealed that a donor was more likely to attrite after three years of giving. So, we created a “donor club that really wasn’t a donor club.” At the end of the third year of giving, donors were welcomed into a special club developed to honor the most loyal donors. Because they had given for three years in a row, they were automatically part of this “inner circle.” And, even better, after five years, they could move up to the next level and then move to an even higher level after seven years. But if they missed a year of giving, it was back to the starting line.

You may be rolling your eyes or scratching your head — but here’s the bottom line: It worked. Attrition declined and stayed down. And the only cost was the initial letter and one other mailing a year to let them know one of three things: They were still in the group and would get to the next level in one more year; they were still in the group and had achieved the next level; or they were still in the group, but they would not continue their membership unless they renewed their giving before Dec. 31.

Keeping our donors is more than a nice thing to think about. It is essential. We have to stop the revolving door. Find what works — then do it, as long as it is ethical and legal. Continual investment in donor acquisition just to stay level is simply not a sustainable way to operate a nonprofit.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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