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Blueprints for Donor Retention

Christy Bergman
Ali Brieske
To expand upon the discussion of retaining your new Colorado Gives Day donors, this week we are featuring excerpts from a blog by Director of Resource Development Christy Bergman and Marketing & Business Development Associate Ali Brieske from JVA.

JVA provides social enterprises, nonprofits and government agencies with the tools and resources they need to succeed, sustain and scale.

Ali: Now that we have these new donors, how do we keep them?

Christy: Great question—and the most important. It is far less expensive to keep a current donor than it is to find a new one. And retention is really all about stewardship—the process of thanking, recognizing and communicating impact to your donors. Stewardship is what keeps retention rates high, and even makes upgrades possible. When your donors are happy, it means that you know who they are and why they give. You’re making it clear that their investment is meaningful and appreciated.

Ali: How do you start building stewardship or donor retention into your work, then?

Christy: The first step is to assess your current donors. Who are they? How did they come to you? What do they have in common? And then, what makes them happy? What have you heard from them that keeps them coming back, and how are you ultimately fulfilling their wishes and communicating with them? Thoroughly assess what you’re already doing.

Then, once you’ve mapped out what you know keeps your donors happy—their motivations, their interests and their general communication needs—determine how you can do that kind of stewardship and retention work—realistically and with support from others—throughout the year. I recommend two things:
  1. Create specific stewardship activities for each giving level. For example, major donors get a “thank you” call within 24 hours of a gift, a personal e-mail accompanying every monthly newsletter, a personal note on all event invitations, and so forth. Do this for all of your giving levels and coordinate these activities with whatever donor benefits and recognition you’re awarding at the same levels.
  2. Build these activities into your calendar.  This way you do not have to think about them all the time. The more you plan time for your stewardship activities, the easier it will be to schedule time to do it. Don’t underestimate just how special and valuable it is for your donors to hear from you unexpectedly and thoughtfully.
Ali: How do you keep on top of this work? A lot of our clients are wearing several hats in one-man/woman fundraising shops.

ChristyWe like to say that “fundraising is everybody’s business.” This is so true when discussing the ongoing work of thanking, recognizing and communicating with donors. It has to be embedded into the culture of your organization and expected of everyone from the front office to the board.

First, you have to establish the structure, process and policies around saying thank you to those who make your work possible. Then, it is about giving your staff and board tools and supporting roles within this work.

Here are other simple steps:
  • Make it easy—do you have monthly, “evergreen” or multi-year giving programs and renewals with easy, attractive technologies, options and benefits?
  • Get the board involved as much as possible. Thanking donors is really fun—and for some board members, a lot more fun than making the ask and still a vital role in the fundraising work of your organizations. Involve board members in the “thank you” calls after receiving the gift and/or annually during a “thank-a-thon” in which the board calls all the donors.
  • Make sure you have several non-ask communications with your donors throughout the year, tailoring these communications whenever possible and aligning with the individual donor’s interests and impact. Send them an article that you think they’d like, wish them a happy birthday, congratulate them on work they’ve done with another organization, etc.
  • Be sure to honor your donors' preference for contact (e.g., do not mail) and recognition (e.g., The Nava Family vs. Juan Nava vs. Anonymous), as well as stay consistent with who they likely want to hear from within your organization.
And, my favorite and most crucial tip—ask them for advice. A connection and investment through advice is often deeper than financial for donors. As you’re creating stewardship activities and communications, ask your closest donors what they want to hear from you!

Ali:
 Thanks for these insider tips, Christy.

Find the original blog here.

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