Per Vital Signs, a study by Blackbaud, there are more nonprofit organizations and fewer donors giving. Somehow, I doubt that surprises you. (The Agitator gives you a run-down of some key findings here.)
But it’s important to keep in mind. We’re in a very competitive atmosphere. If you want to succeed – and stand out in the crowd – here are some things to start or improve in 2018.
Monthly giving program
If you don’t have a program, start soliciting monthly gifts now.
Per our friends at The Agitator, monthly donors generally have retention rates in the 60%-80% range. You read that right.
What difference would it make to your fundraising if 60%-80% of your donors returned, year after year?
Don’t make it a secondary consideration or a project for later. And don’t get too hung up on perfection before you start. Identify your likeliest donors – your loyal donors, your donors who use a credit card now – and send them an appeal.
Then consider making monthly your first ask.
The time to ask for bequests isn’t just before someone passes away. Bequest donors don’t need to be elderly. And they don’t need to be wealthy, either.
If you’ve been held up on beginning a planned giving program, worried about legal issues and how to deal with complex financial instruments, focus on bequests. A little simple language in a will and it’s done.
Who to ask? People who love you.
When to ask? Now. And often.
How well do you know your donors? A donor survey is a great way to open or continue a conversation with them.
I want to be clear, this is qualitative, not quantitative information. It’s more a way to open a conversation than a way to collect great demographic data.
Here’s some information about what happened when I tried this.
Donors like to be asked their opinion!
One important warning: be sure to collect and organize the information you receive. You’ll want to use it going forward to show your donors you heard them and you know them.
And feeling known will increase their sense of loyalty.
Get serious about retention: measure it
If you’ve been giving donor retention lip service, but not measuring it consistently, begin now. Or yesterday.
You need to know whether you are keeping or losing your donors. You need to be able to spot trends so you can act on them.
If your fundraising system doesn’t make that easy (and it should), track it manually. It’s not hard: how many donors from last year gave again this year? Out of how many donors last year? There’s your number.
Of course, you can do more. You can look at dollars retained. You can use the retention percentage to calculate donors’ lifetime value. And you can look at cohorts of donors year over year. (Three years retained, for instance.)
Make this a key metric. Because it’s harder to acquire new donors. Harder to acquire new donors who stick around. So you have to work hard to keep the donors you have.
Loyal donor program
If your fundraising plan is all about dollars, you’re missing out. Some of your most valuable donors can’t make 4, 5 or 6 figure gifts.
But they can give, year after year after year. And guess who is most likely to have remembered you in their will?
Besides, these loyal donors are the most wonderful people! If you are passionate about your organization’s cause, you’ll love them, because you have something important in common.
So find ways to recognize your loyal donors.
Consider a special event for your 5, 10 or 20-year donors. This doesn’t have to be expensive. Have a speaker (a staff person, even) who can offer some new information. Put out wine and cheese. And let them meet one another.
That’s the really great part. Every relationship that develops among your donors because of you strengthens their connection to you.
You can also recognize these donors in publications, of course. And you should send them a special thank you – without an ask – at least once a year. Let them know they matter.
Donor newsletter – print
An email newsletter can’t beat a print one for donors. Why? Most of your donors are probably older. And we’re all buried in email anyway. A well-done print newsletter can be a treat to read.
That won’t work if it’s a corporate relations piece, however. Make sure it’s all about your donors’ impact.
I love newsletters because they’re a three-way win: you get to thank, inform and ask (albeit softly) donors in one mailing. And done well, they can raise some serious money.
Segment and personalize your communications
If you’ve been asking everyone for the same thing at the same time, you’re leaving money on the table.
Get smart and dig into your database. Match the ask – both reason and amount – to the donor.
I know it’s a little more work. But it’s important – because your list is the most important factor in your success.
And digging into your list in order to create segments introduces you to that list. There’s nothing like time spent poring over a spreadsheet to help you know your list. And you should know them!
If caring for your donor relationships has become rote and routine, it probably feels that way to them, too.
Take the time to plan a program that prioritizes stewardship as much as solicitation. Your donors are people, after all, not dollars.
If you focus mostly on how many dollars are in the door, your donors will start to notice.
We give because we’re moved by a mission. Because we want to feel like good people. Because we care.
So if we’re answered with a brief, corporate acknowledgment – or none at all – that undercuts our donor’s high. (It’s really a thing. Giving makes us happy. Our brain chemistry changes when we give. It feels good!)
Help your donors feel good all the time. Give them opportunities to feel good all the time. Treat them like people, not wallets.
It will pay off in the end.
Photo thanks to Eric Rothermel