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Donor retention

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Research on How to Turn Donors into Repeat Givers

Survey data that illuminates what motivates nonprofit donors to give again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how donor retention is the biggest problem facing the modern nonprofit, with 73% of those first-time donors you work so hard to get not giving a second time. For many nonprofits, the retention rate is even lower.

Janna Finch, a nonprofit analyst and managing editor at Software Advice, recently surveyed 2,833 nonprofit donors to explore what motivates them to keep giving. Here's what she found:

  • 60% of donors want impact stories to prove how their first donation made a difference

  • 46% of donors prefer to be contacted with personalized letters

  • 35% prefer you wait seven months before asking for another donation

Janna told me, "It seems that demonstrating your mission’s success through impact stories and direct mail significantly encourage donors to give again." (You can follow Janna on Twitter @AbleAltruist.)

Here's a slideshare with the data; I found slide 3 particularly useful for thinking about nonprofit communications:

Thanks to Chantelle for sharing this research with me!

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Getting New Donors Isn’t Your Problem

Don't forget about donor acquisition. But put it on the backburner.

Most of the nonprofits I interact with are initially interested in growth from donor acquisition. In the long term (and this is a major ongoing point of concern for the board), they want new wallets paying into the account.

Come November, or the last couple months of their fiscal year, they are suddenly worried about meeting their budget needs by the end of the year. And their existing donor base doesn’t seem to be getting them there. By then, of course, it’s too late to find new donors, so they focus on begging and pleading with their existing ones. (I know that sounds harsh, but that really is the point you reach sooner or later if the picture is looking grim.)

But the reason they got to that panic point in the first place has much more to do with how they treat their existing donors, not with the number of donors.

Ten years ago, 67% of first-time donors never made a second donation. By last year, the number had grown to 73%.

Put another way: if you treat your donors the way most nonprofits do, three quarters of your first-time donors will never give again!

Getting someone to give the first time is quite expensive. It’s much cheaper to keep an existing donor.

So how do you do it?

Frank Barry at npEngage polled some nonprofit consultants. You can read their responses here, and I recommend doing so.

The consistent thread, one person after another, is the same: treat your donors like people. When a donor gives, don’t check him off as “mission accomplished” and add him to your pile of conquered territory (your “database”). A big chunk of your organization’s brainpower and manpower needs to go into continuing a conversation with that donor; getting to know him and his interests and priorities, listening, showing him what you’re doing in ways that will mean something (and that link back to his gift), and so on. There are lots of ways to do it, depending on the number of donors you have. There’s a lot of good advice on Frank’s page.

And when you’re ready to graduate to the pros, start thinking about the fact that the donor has friends who probably like the same things he does.

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