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Topping Your Nonprofit 2020 To-Do List: Engaging Existing Donors

By Lori Sampson, MBA, EA, CAM

We aren’t certain who first coined the centuries-old adage, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” but it may have been someone tasked with nonprofit fundraising.  That’s because soliciting past or existing donors is more effective and efficient than recruiting new ones. Nonprofit development managers preach about the importance of retaining donors. However, nonprofit organizations continue to pour energy and resources into reaching new donors and large donors without devoting similar resources to donor retention strategy.

The result?  Studies show two out of three new donors to a charity never give a second time.

Retaining donors is probably one of your nonprofit organization’s goals for 2020. If you have already designed a fundraising strategy around donor retention, congratulations!  You are off to a great start for your 2020 fundraising goals. If not, now is the time to consider what your retention strategy will be. Consider the following techniques you can employ this year and why it matters.

Why Donor Retention Matters

It costs less to ask a donor to give again than the outreach required to acquire a new donor. People who donated to your nonprofit at least once already know the organization and at least a little about its mission. And you should already have their contact information for follow up.

Taking the long-range perspective, even smaller donors can have significant value for your organization. Donors who give again are likely to increase the amount they contribute over time.  And repeat donors are likely to assist your organization even if their gift isn’t a larger-dollar one. Retained donors are a source of referrals, volunteerism, and peer-to-peer fundraising for your nonprofit.

It’s Not All About “The Ask”

A great deal of effort goes into crafting requests for financial support. And it should.  However, engaging a donor to give repeatedly is about building a relationship, not a series of transactions. The thank you the donor receives after their gift should be just the start of that relationship.

What follows should be a series of efforts on the part of the nonprofit to keep the donor informed and engaged. This means more than just a periodic donation request.

Social media and e-newsletters are two popular, low-cost ways to connect with donors. You can use these tools to demonstrate in a visual way the impact of your organization. Don’t miss this opportunity to use newsletters and social media to show the significance donors have!  Always remind donors to follow your nonprofit on social media and subscribe to your newsletter.

Nothing is as powerful as face-to-face interactions when it comes to inspiring and engaging donors.  Large donors are used to this kind of attention, but personal interaction may make all the difference in inspiring ongoing commitment even for smaller donors.  

Personal contact can include fundraising events like auctions and galas, but also low-budget events like open houses, facility tours, and meetings to share organizational goals and solicit feedback. Create advisory boards. Invite donors to attend any community events your nonprofit participates in. 

If space, distance, or cost are issues, no problem.  Try taking your event online using Facebook Live or hosting a Twitter Chat.

And most of all, don’t forget to continually thank your donors.  Your organization should send personalized thank you messages to donors and repeatedly recognize the value of supporters in general communications.  

Offer Alternative Ways of Supporting the Organization

Giving your donors ways to support the nonprofit beyond a financial contribution is another way to engage people. Actively look for volunteer opportunities you can invite past donors to participate in.  Ask your supporters share your social media posts or to review your nonprofit online.  Repeat donors can write about why they support your nonprofit in an upcoming newsletter or donor letter.

Advocacy is another way to engage donors. While there are rules limiting a 501©3’s political activities, nonprofits can safely share information about legislative or funding matters of concern and encourage supporters to contact their elected representatives.

Respect the Power of Recordkeeping

This sounds like a dull way to engage people, but good donor records are proven to make all the difference when it comes to building relationships.  There is power in having a purposeful database that records and reports on donors’ preferences and interactions. This is an area where many nonprofits struggle. 

At its most basic, donor data should identify his or her preferred name so that all communications are addressed correctly. Generic “Dear supporter” emails and letters often go straight in the trash. Also, ask your donors how they want to interact with you:  email, Facebook Messenger, snail mail, phone calls. Then try to follow through with the preferred method when feasible.

Good record keeping allows you to reference the most recent ways in which the donor supported the organization and its mission. Describe how that contribution or volunteer activity made a difference. Donors, no matter the size of their donation, want to know their efforts mattered.

Take your records a step further and track patterns in a donor’s giving behavior. Is there a certain time of year they like to give?  Are they consistent givers, lapsed donors or events-only donors? What issues motivate your donor?  Are there certain kinds of projects or campaigns they feel connected to? Instead of lumping all donors together into identical requests for support, segment donors by what appeals will be most relevant to them based on prior behavior and interests.

Don’t just look at donation activity to determine donor behavior and interest. You can track when a donor shared your social media posts on their own social media feed or tagged your nonprofit in a post. Spend time researching behavior such as how often a person opened your newsletter and what stories he or she clicked on. All of this information can help you communicate with your donors is a personal and effective way.

There are several donor management systems out there that may help a non-profit actively use donor information to tailor communication. Before investing in new software, first assess your organizational capacity to collect, analyze, and act on information. If your nonprofit is new to donor data collection and segmentation, start small and plan for incremental growth. The most complex software out there will be of no use if you don’t have the ability to populate it with information and act on the data.

This year, before the rush fundraising events and campaign letters, spend a little time brainstorming how your nonprofit will keep those attendees and donors coming back. Make 2020 your organization puts donor retention first.

Lori Sampson is a partner with Myers, Brettholtz & Company, PA and manages the accounting services department.  Her years of experience include working with nonprofit organizations, small business, and homeowner and condominium associations performing part time CFO, controllership and consulting services.? She has been with the firm since 1993. 

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