Monday, January 20, 2014

Making donors feel special as your organization grows.

Donor retention is and has always been a problem for nonprofits. Every major nonprofit advisory organization is advising that donor retention should be on every nonprofits list of top three things to do in 2014. Blackbaud's 2012 statistical giving report states that small nonprofits were far ahead of their large counterparts in that category, increasing their overall giving by 7.3% in 2012.

I believe that trend can be attributed to the fact that smaller organizations tend to have more of a personal relationship with donors. It's easier for their donors to connect with them, and vice-versa. They have missions that more directly impact their donors. It's easier for interested prospective donors to go to meetings or attend events to support a local charity than to go to a gala event clear across the country.

The trick seems to be in retaining that sense of small-town camaraderie as the organization grows. Online fundraising seems to be gaining ground, growing by 11% on 2012, but along with that, donors report that they feel more remote from the organization. The more the organization grows, the more likely it becomes that it will lose that personal interaction.

Many organizations maintain a social media presence, but is that really what donors want?  Expecting donors to "like" you or retweet you is not the same thing as interacting with them on a more personal level. Anyone can read a Facebook posting or a tweet, but they have to initiate the contact.

As far as it goes, macro-connecting at that level is useful, but it tends to fully engage only those people who are already closely connected to the organization as volunteers or staff. Donors say that expecting them to go to a Facebook page really isn't very personal.

The most common reason given for not giving repeat donations is that the donor didn't feel appreciated. The larger the organization gets, the harder it is to maintain that one-on-one relationship with donors.

One way to overcome that feeling of rejection is to keep donors in the loop with a blog or a print or e-newsletter targeted only to donors. Please don't equate that with an appeal letter. These forms of communication should convey a feeling of " You are special and we really appreciate you!". Your purpose should be about replicating that feeling of small town intimacy, not sticking your hand out in every post or newsletter.

To be useful, these communications need to offer more than just an instant replay of a social media posting. Those are nice, but should be expanded upon in blog or newsletter communications.

Perhaps the blog or newsletter could educate donors about exactly what you did with their money last month. Perhaps there was a particularly touching story that you can share only with donors, or if you deal with complex issues, you can offer educational content to further emphasize why continued support is needed.

For-profits understand that keeping customers and buyers engaged is an important part of staying profitable, and they use CRM, or Customer Relationship Management techniques to keep their customers engaged, i.e. to keep their business top-of-mind with their customers.

Donor retention is exactly the same theory. You want to stay connected, or at least be the first thing the donor thinks of when they think about your mission focus. That way, when the inevitable appeal for donations does go out, it won't have the feel of a panhandler on a street corner.

Far less expensive and certainly more personal than traditional media campaigns, targeted blogs and newsletters are a great tool to keep those donors you worked so hard to get, firmly in your corner.
©2014 Rebecca L. Baisch

Need help designing or maintaining a donor connection campaign?  I can help you. For more information, drop me a line at

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