Maximize donor retention with the memorable gifts (not tchotchkes)

Budgets are constantly changing—and so are funders’ opportunities to work with partners.

Many people might think scoring a donation means the battle is over. But nonprofits know that the true victory is forming a long-lasting relationship with a donor who supports your mission.

According to the Blackbaud Institute’s 2018 Charitable Giving Report, the average retention rate for first-year donors is 29% for offline donations, and a whopping 22% for online donors.

Scary, right?

If your nonprofit benefits from generous key donors, it’s time to address your strategy for donor relations. By saying thank you, your nonprofit can maximize donor retention and achieve the loftiest fundraising goals.

First, start by clearly defining your organization’s goals.

Understanding your organization’s goals will help you to get a clearer picture of what you really want from your donors. Sure, no one will turn down a cash donation, but you may have better opportunities to leverage your donor community.

A clued-in donor community can help start conversations around hiring opportunities, potential partnerships, and new campaign developments—without ever opening their wallets. Identify your organization’s key goals for the year, then communicate these to your donors. This transparency helps build trust, and makes donors feel more involved since they can see exactly where their donation dollars are going.

Surprise and delight with something unexpected.

In the same way saying thanks and presenting small gifts helps fight burnout and turnover in nonprofit employees, acknowledging your donors will make them more likely to stick around year after year.

Many nonprofits choose to present their donors with some kind of gift. From simple heartfelt letters to extravagant wine-and-dine nights on the town, donor appreciation directly fuels donor retention.

At the same time, think about how many tote bags, pens, and other tchotchkes you’ve thrown away over the years… Is that the kind of gift you really want to give your donors?

The best way to make an impression on your donors is with surprise and delight—the more unexpected, the more they’ll remember it.

Guided tours of your HQ, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a particular campaign or project, or a chance to meet the beneficiaries of your foundation can leave a donor with a bright, exquisite memory to draw on the next time they’re asked, “Would you like to renew your donation?”

Add a personal touch from your CEO or Founder.

Nonprofit employees—especially their fearless leaders—are busy. We get it. However, a personal touch can do wonders for your donors’ sense of worth and recognition. It doesn’t have to be fancy: start with a well-crafted letter for your email list. For key donors, schedule a two-minute phone call to say “thank you.”

When there’s time, arrange face-to-face meetings between your organization’s key staff and donors. From coffee meetings to donor galas, recognizing impact with face time helps make a donor’s commitment real.

Most importantly, keep the conversation open all year long.

A major mistake many nonprofits make is only communicating with donors during fundraising campaigns, like during the holidays or around organization milestones. This makes a nonprofit organization look like they’re only asking for handouts.

Donor retention starts with open, clear communication. From day one, your donors should know that they’re considered a critical part of your team.

Welcome packages for new donors and sentimental gifts or notes for frequent donors help open those lines of communication. Keep the doors open with frequent updates, such as:

  • Sending out a newsletter.
  • Planning calls or webinars with the founder.
  • Sharing stories that show the real-world impact of donation dollars.
  • Creating a donor communications calendar (and committing to at least twelve interactions per year).

At the end of the day, donor retention is built on the idea that you’re not just looking for money. Instead, you’re looking to build a relationship, to start a conversation.

With genuine gratitude and honest communication, you can continue to surprise and delight your donors, and start conversations that continue long past the first time they opened their wallet.

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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