I recently did a webinar with my friends at NeonCRM on donor retention. It was fun – and obviously, a topic close to my heart.
Some of the most fun I had was answering questions at the end. Since the topic can be broad, the questions were, too. Unfortunately, even with an hour and a half for the webinar, we ran out of time before we ran out of questions.
Some of the questions were interesting, though. So I’ll tackle a few today.
How do you scale the attention you give to larger versus smaller donors? (Donors who give larger versus smaller gifts?)
First, I want to be clear: every donor, every gift matters. No donor should be taken for granted or belittled.
That said, some of your donors will have the potential to become much more engaged with your organization and/or able to give more. There are donors who give smaller gifts, but do so for years and years. These are all donors you will want to spend more time with.
How do you know who is who? You look at the information you have: giving history, communication from the donor, responses to surveys, attendance at events. How are they interacting with your organization? Are they volunteers? Even something like calling to change their address can be a signal of more than passing interest in your organization’s work.
Then you have to look at your staff and ability to manage more personal relationships. Be realistic. Donors don’t usually ask much of us. But being showered with attention only to be dropped like a hot potato can make someone feel snubbed.
So ranking is inevitable.
But, you can still make all you communications feel personal. So that every donor feels well-treated and needed. And you can ask for feedback all the time so that every donor feels heard. And you can make gratitude a way of operating so that every donor feels loved.
Why paper for newsletters and surveys?
Despite constant reports of its death, direct mail is alive and well, and still significantly outperforms email.
People interact differently with digital and print content. While email is less expensive, direct mail has greater impact. Think about it – it can engage your sight, but also your sense of touch.
You can hold a print newsletter in your hands. You probably give more thought to a survey answer you write with a pen.
And older people are still more comfortable with paper. Chances are your donors are like most donors – 60 and older. So you need to meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.
Do you have any discovery questions that you recommend we ask donors when we are meeting them for the first time?
The best combination of ice-breaker and engagement-maker I’ve discovered is simply, “What brought you to ORG? Why did you first get involved?” You can follow that with more questions along those lines – if you listen carefully.
People like attention. So worry less about what you’ll say and more about listening well – and asking questions based on what you hear. Keep the focus on the donor. This isn’t an interrogation! It’s a conversation – but a conversation that’s all about the donor.
When was the last time someone really listened to you? Remember how great that felt?
I keep hearing that donor letters are a waste of time, and that no one reads them, costs too much etc. Do you have any tips on how to deliver news to them that can actively engage them? We’ve done donor events, thank a thons, and eblast. Our demographic is 60+.
Donor letters are NOT a waste of time, so long as they’re well done. As I said above, direct mail is not at all dead – it still rules. Two key things that will determine whether they perform for you, though.
The first is your list. Even a great appeal won’t perform as well if it’s sent to an unengaged list. You can’t change your donors, but you can and should be sure you are taking care of that data. Get names and addresses right. And make sure they’re all up to date.
Check out this bargain from TrueNCOA via The Agitator.
The second is the appeal, of course. Now, I will say that most people do NOT read every word. That isn’t actually the expectation of a good copywriter. You write for skimmers, because that’s what many will do. And you put special focus on the parts of the appeal that tests show gets the most eyeballs – the P.S., a great first line, headlines or anything in bold or handwriting.
If your donors prefer mail, you can keep trying to engage them via email. But you probably won’t be that successful. It’s our job to meet our donors where they are, not demand that they conform to our communications preferences.
Older donors like to read. If well done and respectful, they enjoy getting mail.
None of this precludes email in addition to mail. (Donors who are willing to give you both an email and mail address tend to be more engaged.) Or donor events or thankathons… all of that can be part of a good communications plan for your donors.
If you want to persuade someone at your organization to use direct mail, propose a head to head test: email appeal versus a direct mail appeal. I know where I’d put my money!
Most of our constituents tend to be part of the older generation (prefer phone calls, not online, not computer savvy), any particular tips for reaching them, especially for repeated gifts?
First, you’re not alone. Most donors are older. We become more altruistic as we age. And often, we have fewer immediate calls on our money – kids are gone, college is done, etc.)
But this applies to all donors: reach them the way they’ve indicated they want to be reached. So if they’ve been giving in response to direct mail appeals that tells you something. If they enjoy a phone call, then make calling part of your plan. If you want a second or third gift, give the donor a call soon after the first to say thanks. And of course, getting that second gift is key to retaining the donor.
What will probably be tough is getting them to respond to your way of communicating. Older people are becoming more comfortable online, but that doesn’t mean it’s their preference.
Before asking for the second gift, you said to report to them… does that always mean a full letter? Or can that be a phone call, email, postcard in the mail?
Reporting can happen in many different ways – depending on what the donor likes. And it doesn’t have to be fancy, either.
If they respond to email, an email can do the job. I’m not keen on “e-blasts” myself – I suspect most people now tune them out. There’s not enough focus – too much “throw everything in there”.
But a personal (or personal-seeming) update with a few examples of impact, full of gratitude toward the donor? If they open email, that could do the job.
A phone call is another great way to let donors know they’re getting good stuff done. It doesn’t need to be long. But a simple anecdote might help make your point. “I wanted to let you know something great happened here yesterday – and it’s because of you!”
It can be hard to fit a message on a card – but if you can really make it focused – on one example of impact, for instance – it could work!
Do you recommend setting up a monthly check in with monthly donors? Something about what the organization has done that month?
Oh my, yes! If you can – and if they want it – that’s a great way to keep them engaged. And sets the stage nicely for when you ask them to increase their regular gift.
So I’d suggest you ask your monthly donors. “We’d love to let you know everything your gift is doing with a quick monthly phone call. Would that be OK with you?”
I suspect most will say “Oh, no, please don’t bother. I’m not that important!”. But even asking will make them feel valued.
If a phone call is too much – for them or for you – then create a template for a quick mailing or email, just for your monthly donors. “This happened last month, because of your support.” This doesn’t need to be fancy at all. In fact, I suspect the more it appears as if you put it together just for them and sent it off, the better their response will be.
Donor retention is a process and a practice
You need to commit to it if you want donors who will commit to you. It means putting the donor at the forefront. It means building relationships.
And relationships depend on caring and good communication.
So think of your donors as kind people. People who share your commitment to your cause. NOT as funding sources. Who wants to be treated like an ATM?
You probably can’t develop a personal relationship with every donor. But work to make it feel personal. Treat them with respect, because they’ve earned it.
Do you have more questions? I’ll do my best to answer. Ask in the comments, jump on over to my Facebook page, or get in touch!