An example from my past
Donor retention continues (rightly) to be a hot topic. It risks being like the weather, though: everybody’s talking about it, but nobody’s doing anything about it.
I thought about an organization I used to work for. Riverfront Recapture built and programs a series of parks along the Connecticut River in Hartford and East Hartford, CT. Even in the worst of the recession, we had an enviable 74% retention rate. So what the heck were we doing right?
Have the right donors
Most important, I think, were our donors. We attracted exactly the kind of people likely to be loyal. They were older. Very tied to the community. Civic-minded. These people loved the idea of parks. I often heard from donors who could no longer get out to enjoy the parks themselves. But they remembered how much they loved being outdoors and wanted to be sure new generations could do so. And so they continued to give.
Now, obviously, you can’t really pick your donors. They choose you. If you’re fortunate to appeal to the kind of people likely to be loyal, don’t waste that opportunity! And if your donors aren’t there yet, give them a reason to be loyal. Better yet, give them lots of reasons.
Strong community ties can help
The organization grew from the ground up in the community. People were excited by a big vision and bought into it. They had spread a wide net and the project appealed to people from all sectors of the community. Politicians, community activists, families, athletes, business people. We celebrated 25th and 30th anniversaries while I was there. And all those years later, people were still committed to the vision.
So what if your community is a country or the world? You build it. You bring together different people interested in your cause – for a variety of reasons.
The Executive Director was not the founder, but he had been there a very long time. His name was publicly associated with the organization. And he knew everyone. That built trust. People knew who was taking care of their money.
Communication focused on your donors
The Executive Director was also skilled communicator. As was the development staff (including me). Letters didn’t contain a lot of back-patting. We all put the focus on our donors. You’ll never go wrong giving your donors and other supporters the credit.
Thank people well and often
Thank you letters were hand-signed. The ED included short notes. This often meant my job was to nag – because he wanted to sign every single letter. It was always a balancing act between how long it would take and how much he could write.
I did add some donor-focused communications to our mix. Print newsletters focused on the donor. (They often raised more than appeals did.) Surveys to ask what donors thought. Thank you letters “just because”, not in response to a gift. Donors loved them all.
Recognize and celebrate loyalty
Long-time donors – of any size – were prominently recognized in our annual reports. Donors wanted that designation. I’d get a call if I missed someone! We held thank you events just for them. They knew we were grateful for their loyalty and the responded with more. Are your giving groups all about dollars amounts? Do you have a loyalty group? If not, start one.
So bottom line? There’s no easy answer. It takes organization-wide commitment. It means truly focusing on donors. Measuring and valuing their loyalty. Communicating well. A consistent vision.
And gratitude. Lots of gratitude.