If I asked you why you shop at your favorite store what would you say? Would your answer sound like any of these?
- It is conveniently located.
- The people are friendly.
- They carry the brands I like.
- The checkout lines are short.
- They always thank me for shopping with them.
- They give coupons for shopping there.
If you are nodding your head to any or all of these, you are reacting to your "customer experience". Something about your favorite store keeps you coming back as a paying customer.
That is the key to donor retention. The basic things most people want from a store are value for their dollar, appreciation for their patronage , and consideration of their time. They don't buy from a store because the store needs to pay its electric bill. They buy because the store fulfills their needs or wants.
Donors want the same feeling when they donate. They want to know that
- Your mission fulfills their needs, i.e. they feel their money helps achieve the outcomes they are expecting.
- They want to know that you truly appreciate them for supporting you.
- They want the donation process to be easy.
Notice the italicized words above. This is often a hard concept for newer nonprofits to grasp. They get so focused on their mission, they forget that donors may have needs and expectations as well. According to a 2012 report by Giving USA, nearly 9 out of 10 support dollars comes from individuals rather than from grants or sponsorships, so donor motivation is something you need to understand.
Every donor is looking for a reason to support you and your mission. Something about what you are doing needs to resonate with them. They usually know generally what type of cause they want to support. It's your job to let them know why your organization does that best, not to tell them that you are so broke you will be having a going-out-of-business-sale soon.
For stores the process is easy. They just monitor inventory. If a pink and orange starfish print shirt isn't selling, all they have to do is look at how many are left over at the end of the day, and they know it wasn't what customers wanted.
You can create an inventory for your donor appeals as well. Which ones bring in the most support over the shortest period of time? Do some appeals work better at one time of year than another? What presentation works best, i.e. all text, lots of pictures, personal stories, community events, donor appreciation days, video, short social media posts, interactive blogs, or private newsletters just for donors? Analyzing your fundraising results will keep you from repeating approaches that don't work.
Not every donor is going to donate every time, any more than every retail customer buys something every time they see an ad. What you want to do is keep donors connected to your organization. You can't force or guilt them into donating. Serial generic appeals usually wind up in the trash at some point.
When they do have the inclination and ability to donate, keep the checkout times short. A three or four step process online is like standing in a fifteen person checkout line.
Offer them a chance to stay connected, but not at checkout. One NPO used a cliffhanger strategy. They presented most of a story about an animal rescue, but left the outcome hanging. If you wanted to know what happened you could sign up for their email newsletter. They had about a 70% positive response.
Always thank your donors. You should have a process to capture their contact information. Send them a short thank you note addressed specifically to them. A generic popup window when they finish checking out isn't going to provide the same feeling of connection as a personal note addressed just to them.
The nonprofit version of a coupon might be something as easy as a personal invitation to an event, a badge, or a refrigerator magnet or other inexpensive merchandise item with your name and a short message telling them why their contribution matters.
Not all donor contact has to be or even should be online. A food pantry serving a very local area sends a personalized small notepad as their "thank you" with the phrase " Mary, each one of your dollars provides one sack lunch. Thank you from all our kids" and their organization name. If you depend on local support an all-online approach may seem too detached to keep donors engaged.
Stores succeed because they understand where their money comes from and how to capture it. The next time you think about fundraising, try thinking like a store.