Tag Archives: 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors

Nonprofit Stewardship – A Year in the Making

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 12

This is the last in my series on my learnings from the Donor Retention Project. We return to the essentials of nonprofit stewardship, this time with Dan Blakemore. The importance of stewardship came to him a few years back when he joined a nonprofit that was in the process of trying to reap the rewards of a challenge gift that included a donor retention piece.

4 Key Elements

  1. Routine
    If you know you get your snail mail at 2pm every day, plan on spending 45 minutes opening up gifts, adding the information to the database and sending thank you emails. Have a few templates ready – one for new donors (Dan offered a sample in his activity guide), one for renewed gifts (he suggested including the number of years or the total amount given over time to these notes to show the impact that small gifts can have), one for planned gifts, and one for any category that is agency-specific. You don’t need to recreate the wheel every day, but you do want to keep the wheels moving each and every day.
  2. Could you use $153,000 in increased philanthropic investment?
    Make stewardship the priority for one fiscal year. Let’s examine how we can get you there. What if you retain 5% more donors than last year or whatever your average donor retention rate has been for the past 3 to 5 years. Now, let’s assume you have 560 donors. 5% may seem like a small percentage, but if you could do that every year for 5 years that would mean 28 additional donors who might still be giving to your organization. If your average gift is $100, that would mean an additional $153,000 from these retained donors alone. If your average gift is closer to $1,000 – that is an additional $153,000. Or, on the other hand, you could consider that as funds that you will be actively losing by not stewarding your current donors.
  3. Events Can Offer Donor Acquisition
    Stewarding attendees who have attended a special event as their first contact with your nonprofit does not mean importing their names into your general support lists and hoping a few survive. People go to galas for a variety of reasons – but a large number of newbies are friends with the honorees. And the majority of those friends don’t know or care about your cause. But you have one night and various means of follow up that can peak their interest and retain these prospective donors. Create special pieces based on something that happened at the event, something they purchased at the silent auction at the event, highlighting the honoree as a continuing supporter and asking them to join in making a real impact.
  4. Small things can make your organization stand out.
    I have said it before and I will say it again – thank you calls – without additional solicitations – make a difference. Most people have never received a call from a nonprofit to simply thank them for their support. One evening, some board members and a handful of cell phones are all that is required to make donors feel good about how their gift has impacted your organization.

Of course, this is just a sampling of ideas. But if you spend a year brainstorming with your development team and board about how you can retain donors through nonprofit stewardship – you will see the difference this fiscal year. And for years to come.

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Stewarding Foundations That Give to Nonprofits

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 11:
Stewarding Foundations

In week 11 of The Donor Retention Project, Pamela Grow discusses stewarding foundations that give to nonprofits. While this may seem like a strange concept, foundations are just people giving money in a different way.

Statistics show that foundation giving has increased in recent years. Not necessarily because foundations are giving more money but because individuals are using family foundations or donor-advised funds as an alternate means of giving. As David A. Mersky has been known to say, “foundations are the same individuals giving from their left pocket instead of their right.”

And foundations, as well as individuals, can, and should, be stewarded – both before and after the gift.

Since The Donor Retention Project focuses on retention – let’s consider what happens after you apply to a foundation for a grant.

Scenario 1 – You don’t get the grant
(I hesitate to begin with the negative response but I think people need more improvement in this area.)

Pamela suggests you send a thank you note. Yes, a thank you note after you were declined. They have taken the time and effort to consider you and deserve your appreciation. Then, consider how easy it is to send off a note and what a memorable and impressive impact it will make on the foundation.   Next, call and ask three questions – none of which is, “Why didn’t I get the grant?” Instead inquire:

  1. Could we have done something differently in our proposal?
  2. May we resubmit the proposal for the next funding cycle?
  3. Do you know of any other foundations that might be interested in our proposal?

Scenario 2 – You get the grant
Steward the relationship:

  • Send what is expected of you when it is expected.
  • Repurpose your donor newsletter and publicity articles to create foundation updates throughout the year.
  • Send thank you notes. The type depends upon your relationship. Do not send expensive gifts that serve as proof to the foundation you are not using their money wisely.
  • Treat them like the partner they are – with respect and consistent information.

The path to foundation success is similar to that of individual donors – slow and steady with large amounts of communication and feedback. But unlike donors, they may never set foot in your building or receive direct benefits from your work—other than the psychic reward of supporting important, valuable work that enhances their community. It may be harder to show your gratitude and steward a foundation that gives to nonprofits but it is no less important to be accountable and appreciative.

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Surprise! Donors Don’t Expect Nonprofits to Be Perfect

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 10

Improving nonprofit donor satisfaction and retention
There is a general theory that nonprofits should run a steady course and not upset donors. Of course, we all hear the stories of the organizations that found some unique and creative way to dramatically change their nonprofit that resulted in increased donor support and a lot of fabulous press. But, in the back of our heads we assume there are a lot more that tried to do this and failed miserably, angering their donors and forcing a shutdown of the agency.

What if, nonprofit donor satisfaction and retention is not about being perfect or making radical changes, but, instead, it is about being honest and transparent.

That is, in fact, one theory I learned from week 10 of The Donor Retention Project and the interview with the always interesting Marc Pitman.

Marc explained that he was an accidental, early adopter of social media and he has continued to use Linked In, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and many other options that help nonprofits keep engaged and open. Because, as it turns out, donors would rather see you handle a crisis openly and apologetically (if necessary), than trying to sweep the disaster under the proverbial carpet. They would rather hear from you, directly, that something went wrong – from the accidental and embarrassing tweet Marc referenced in his interview to a major program that flopped – than through the grapevine or a scathing newspaper article.

Basic rules of public relations dictate that you want to control the story. So, if you want to retain donors when your nonprofit inevitably strays from perfection – remember that the idea of flawlessness is in your head. You hire people to do jobs and people cannot help but make mistakes. How you handle the errors is up to you. You can explain how you use your mistakes as learning opportunities, make light of the situation with humor or simply apologize, the choice is up to you. But if you want to retain donor support, make it public, make it honest and make it quickly.

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Stop Confusing Your Donors & Start Increasing Monthly Donors

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 9:
Increasing Monthly Donors

In Week 9 of The Donor Retention Project I listened to a very interesting audio conversation that used dating as a metaphor for donor retention.  It worked surprisingly well from the acquisition/blind date/bar approach to the “bequests/’til death do us part.”  You can read the details in the Action Guide that accompanies each week of the Donor Retention Project.

However, I want to focus on something that John Lepp mentioned during the 4th step – the going steady phase.  He said, “As soon as I ask you for more than one thing I am affecting your ability to make a decision and therefore, I’m limiting how you are going to react.”  He restated it as, “If I can be as clear as possible with what I want from you and it’s one thing, my odds are increasing monumentally that you will do it.

In other words, if you are working on increasing monthly donors from your pool of current donors – explain, how it will help the organization to have monthly donors, why they are the perfect people to become monthly donors and then ask them to become monthly donors.  Don’t give them a list of ways they can give on a standard form in which one check box is monthly giving.  It is too confusing.

It may take a bit more time to create a new return slip but really, is that your excuse?  We are all busy, there is no denying that, but if you are asking them to make monthly giving to your nonprofit a priority, – you have to be willing to make the same commitment

So book a meeting with your Board Chair, Executive Director, Director of Development or whoever else helps prioritize areas of focus.  Then, consider which donors are you trying to retain (I am assuming you read this far because the first line included donor retention).  Segmenting also takes more time and effort, but it provides the opportunity for a more targeted path for retention.  Effort is required – from both the donor and the nonprofit – but the results will be beneficial to everyone.

If you would like to purchase your copy of the Donor Retention Project (I think the online version is a steal at  $179) click here.

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Let Your Donors Tell You Their Preferences: Donor Centric Strategy

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 8:
Donor Centric Strategy

Sitting down to listen to week 8 of The Donor Retention Project, surprised me. The focus was on surveys – not usually something that raises eyebrows. In fact, I was thinking that this might be a stretch for donor retention, but I was wrong. Nonprofits could learn a lot from Jonathon Grapsas of Flat Earth Direct (based in Australia) and his focus on surveys as an essential tool.

What surprised me was not the abundance of information you can gain or how it can be used to improve your relationships with donors. It was not the survey length, the important questions you can ask, or even the fact that all of his testing has proven that donation requests in surveys do not affect response rates (and can often cover costs). What surprised me was that I had never considered that donors were providing valuable information by their type of contact with the organization.

Why is this true? It’s actually quite logical but rarely practiced by nonprofits – at least from what I have seen.

Donor Centric Strategy
If someone donates via mail, it follows logic to say that they view snail mail as a trustworthy source. The same is true of email. But then why send email or snail mail surveys to the entire donor database? Because it is easier for the nonprofit – not a very donor centric strategy.

In fact, donors provide their preference with each and every donation. All you have to do is listen.

Yes, it will require organizations to create two different versions of the survey, but they are versions not completely different surveys.

There is definitely a higher cost for a snail mail version, but if the studies from Flat Earth Direct are to be trusted, you can cover the costs (and possibly even profit a tiny bit) by including a gift solicitation in the survey.

A survey is an ideal stewardship opportunity. It is an easy way to learn more about a donor without having to conduct a face-to-face interview. Of course, you won’t have a 100% response rate, but if you listen to those who respond, you will know more about those donors – and that could be key to donor retention.

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project (a steal at $199) by clicking here

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Finding and Keeping Millennial Donors

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 7

You may consider Millennials a future source of revenue for your nonprofit, something to focus on when you have more capacity or someone to drive social media.  But that would be a mistake.  Did you know that Millennials are now the largest generation?  According to Ian Adair who is interviewed for Week 7 of the Donor Retention Project, those born between 1982-2000 have surpassed the baby boomers – by 30%!  That means there may be more than 100 million individuals waiting to be solicited by your organization.

Need another reason? While you may look at 1982 and think the person is too young to be noticed by your development staff, consider that people born in that year will turn 32 this year.  And are already donating to nonprofits on a regular basis.

Getting in touch
Best practices for working with donors is that you have to go to them, with their preferred method of communication and in a way that they find palatable.  Millennial donors are no different.

They have been proved to be a very charitable.  They like hands on projects and really getting to know the nonprofits that they support. But their methods of getting involved reflect a generational-shift.  Social media is, of course, key.

While that may seem scary, posting pictures or videos of your executive director, chairman of the board and a group of twenty-somethings working on a project is actually a lot easier than creating a newsletter and figuring out how many different ways you need to deliver the piece.  And, as a bonus, when you are ready to create a printed newsletter or pdf – you know what images are available to you – just check your social media pages.  Chances are some of your Millennials posted additional images that you could use (with permission).

What does This Have to do with Donor Retention?

While there were a few tips that directly dealt with the concept (i.e. using current millennial donors to help post and share updates), consider what was not said.  Millennial donors want to know they are not alone.  Knowing that a nonprofit has accessed an entirely new generation of donors provides confidence in a solid future for the organization.  And that in itself provides additional, and larger, donations for many years to come.

Interested in learning more about Donor Retention? Click here

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Why Thank You Notes To Donors Matter More Than You Thought

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 6:
Thank You Notes To Donors

As I listened to the beginning of week 6 in The Donor Retention Project I quickly learned tips and tricks for improving my nonprofit thank you note writing skills.  But, I’ll admit that my initial reaction was surprise.  Really?  A whole week is dedicated to thank you notes?  I know they are one of many ways to appreciate your donor but they are one of many ways?  Are they going to dedicate week 7 to signage in the lobby?

Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t but if they do, I now know one thing.  A week should be dedicated to thank you notes.  It is an easy and proven donor retention strategy.

As Lisa Sargent, this week’s guest (and thank you note expert) stated, if it retains one percent of your donors – why wouldn’t you do it? Of course, you could list the standard excuses.  “I am so busy but I’ll get around to it.” “I am waiting for Allison, Mark, and Karen to approve the content.” “I need to print out all those letters so I’ll do it tomorrow.” “I am waiting for the addresses from Margaret.” What do all of those excuses have in common?  There is no streamlined process that ensures the letters go out in a timely fashion.  And if the letters don’t go out, your donor retention will go down.

Consider this valuable piece of advice from the interview.  If you cannot get the thank you notes out in 48 hours – the standard best practices theory – don’t try.  But, make sure you get them out once a week every week.  Or at least once every two weeks, but then make sure it is every two weeks. The bottom line is that you are better off extending the time frame and ensuring your acknowledgements go out on a regular basis than trying to fit them in every 48 hours and sometimes doing it and sometimes not getting around to it. But keep it at two weeks.  If you wait too long to send the letter it will seem insincere.. Other useful tips that can improve your consistency are:

  1. Send the thank you note copy around for approval with the direct mail solicitation.
  2. Try to have as few people approve the letter as possible.  Everyone in your organization can write, but that doesn’t mean they all need to have a say in each letter.  Each additional critical eye will add more corporate language and less chance that any warmth will come through.
  3. If you are sending out the notes once a week, set up a time once a week with the person who’s signature is on the letter.  It will improve your accountability to have a meeting set up and it will allow any personal notes to be added in a timely manner.  It would be disappointing to work hard to get the notes written and then left sitting on someone else’s desk for days on end.

There are many more ways to improve your thank you note both in the conversation – the donor retention project and on Lisa Sargent’s site, http://www.lisasargent.com/index.htm. Keep one last piece of advice in mind, if you don’t have the capacity to retain donors, perhaps you should stop spending so much time trying to acquire new donors.

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

The Psychology of Nonprofit Board Members

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 5:
Nonprofit Board Members

This may seem like a strange title for my analysis of week 5 of The Donor Retention Project.  It’s true, Gail Perry of Fired Up Fundraising, gave excellent advice about how to handle the, “Donor Abyss” which considers how hard you work to get donors and yet how little effort there is to make them feel happy and close to the organization once they are donors.  She also spoke of the unfortunate reality that more donors does not mean more money for the organization. You can purchase your own copy to hear about that.

I want to focus on the psychology of board members.   And how it can be used to retain donors. 

I think Gail is correct when she suggests, “the psychology of a board member is that they pay more attention to their colleagues on the board then they do to the staff.”  Keeping that in mind, she wants staff, or whoever is taking the lead, to present the facts surrounding the topic and then ask for the board’s thoughts about how they can solve the problem.  Sure, a lot of those ideas could be listed and presented to the board, but they will be more engaged, excited and willing to implement their own ideas.

Now, let’s consider how to implement this theory.  Present the following:

  • Improving donor retention is necessary to decrease the high costs (both in human and financial resources) of constantly finding new donors.  There is a recent study that showed a 33% increase in subsequent donations when thank you calls were made within 24 hours of a gift.  What are ways that we can test to help increase gifts?
  • For-profit businesses Gail referenced a 10% average retention rate (a little research can help you find an average retention rate and source for you to use). Do you think nonprofits would be higher or lower?
  • Donor retention rates are currently X for our organization.  Take five minutes to talk to the person next to you about ways the two of you could turn this around.
  • Raising money is essential for board members but not everyone feels comfortable soliciting donations.  Brainstorm other ways in which board members can help the development effort by working to retain donors (ideally, encouraging thank you calls, hosting parties, inviting friends to events, etc..)

The possibilities about how to use this theory are numerous.  As are the ways to improve your donor retention.

To experience 12 experts views on donor retention that will help your organization, purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here.

Read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Donors Want To Be Thanked Promptly (& Other Donor Retention Strategies)

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 4

This week, The Donor Retention Project, offered a conversation and action guide with Roger Craver of DonorVoice (as well as serving as the editor of The Agitator). And his research on donor retention strategies is fascinating. Through DonorVoice, he conducted a study of 32 potential drivers that affect donors RFD (recency, frequency and dollar amount) and then proved the 7 factors that predict a positive attitude toward a nonprofit.

While an organization cannot affect a donor’s behavior, the economy, the weather, war, or famine, it can definitely affect a donor’s attitude. And, he has proven that a donor’s attitude has a direct correlation with his or her behavior. Read: whether or not the donor will continue to give to the organization or find one of the many nonprofits with a similar mission.

The key drivers are not as obvious as I would have thought. This is, in part, because there are nuances that we often lose when creating donor retention strategies for an organization. Consider the following example.

“Timeliness of the organization’s thanking you for your support.”
According to the study, how regularly or frequently donors are acknowledged and/or informed about how their donation was used were factors that do not affect attitude; timeliness does.

I know many smaller nonprofits are often happy if they get a thank you note out within a week or two. Just as often, the notes get mailed a month or two later. A month or two later, I barely remember what urged me to give at that point in time. A month delay, as a recipient, means there was a month of tasks that were higher priority than my donation. When I stop to really think about a small nonprofit, I understand the lack of administrative staff or pressing needs often make that true. But most people do not stop to think about it that much. They question whether their small donation is impactful to the organization. And if it’s not making an impact, maybe I should look for somewhere else to give my money! Attitude does change giving –for better or for worse.

Now imagine that I had received a phone call from a staff member within a day or two of the donation and then a note a month later. I would think, they took the time to call me right away! That is appreciation! Then, when the note arrives a month later I will probably see it as administrative bookkeeping (great for my records!).

Yes, making the calls takes staff time, but most of the calls will likely result in leaving voicemails – still achieving high impact. If you are lucky enough to speak with 10 donors each week, you can reduce your new donor acquisition time knowing that you are improving retention ten fold.

I would love to give more details on some of the other key factors like:

    1. “Knowing What to Expect from the Organization with Each Interaction” or
    2. “Providing opportunities to make my views known (e.g. solicit your opinion on where they should focus their effort, easy to make suggestions)”

but I am out of space. Instead, I would urge you to purchase your own copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here. Week by week you will learn how to retain more donors and improve your annual fund in ways that you can only imagine.

You can read the rest of my series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here

Stewardship Events For Donors Made Easy

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 3:
Stewardship Events For Donors

Week 3 of The Donor Retention Project is a conversation with Shannon Doolittle about events. Not fundraising events, but stewardship events for donors – after all, this is about donor retention and not donor acquisition. While she focuses on the steps to a successful event – I wanted to pick up some other ideas that surfaced when she sat down to talk with Marc A. Pittman.

The essential difference between a fundraising event and a stewardship event
A fundraising event is trying to get the most people in the room possible. A stewardship event should be limited to the number of people the director of development and/or executive director can sit with for a three to five minute conversation. I thought that was a clear way to distinguish the type of event as well as remember the purpose of the stewardship event – to personally connect, or reconnect, with everyone in that room. And show them that you appreciate their support. Gratitude is the best way to fundraise and retain donors.

The truth is that many organizations find events so onerous that they avoid them or focus so much time on them that everything else is completely neglected.

Instead, consider Ms. Doolittle’s advice for these smaller events: Less is more. It should be low cost, low maintenance, easy, unfussy food and alcohol. No one is showing up to this free event in hopes of a filet mignon.

That begs the question – what will encourage people to show up? Especially those people who have given but do not have strong connections to your agency? With all the time you save when you keep it simple, think about how to make an entertaining and creative connection to the mission for everyone in the room. She mentioned building gingerbread houses for a homeless shelter. That is a great idea and can help encourage a whole family to become more invested in the mission (which helps retain donors). The possibilities are endless.

I know that some people fear that they are not creative enough but thanks to social media – you don’t have to be. Sites like Pinterest can help you in amazing ways. You can search for “home + crafts” and come up with twenty other ways to make the connection for your donors in a way with which you are comfortable that will strike a chord in your community. And that is true of almost any other type of organization.

Are you an environmental agency? Pick one topic that you want people to consider (air quality, water pollution, etc.) and then search how you can explain it to kids. Something will surface as the ideal way to connect to your donors. Are you a religious institution? Choose a holiday and create an event around that? I think you get the idea.

And once you do get the idea, schedule an event. You will want to create a few throughout the year to improve donor retention. As much work as it is to do these events, it is as much as four times easier to retain a donor than to find a new donor. Then, the stewardship process will not be seen as so much work.

Purchase your copy of The Donor Retention Project by clicking here

See the full series on 90 Days to Larger Gifts and Lifetime Donors by clicking here