Monday, June 2, 2014

Do you understand donor retention?

It's funny how blogs work. You post something, people read it that day, and you think OK, that's nice, a bunch of people apparently got something useful from this.

Then out of the blue several weeks or months later you get a comment or email about a post that you had sort of forgotten about.

 So it is with my blog post of April 28, "Marketing Your Mission".

Apparently "Tom" took issue with it. "This is the most stupid thing I've ever read" would tend to indicate that Tom doesn't find the use of the word "marketing" to be congruent with "nonprofit mission".

According to Tom, mission is all about emotional engagement. All that other stuff about being a good "investment" for the donor doesn't matter. People just "know" that you will use their money well, because after all, you're a charity.

In Tom's defense, the emotional characteristic is what drives donors to investigate your charity further. It is the thing that defines the need to give that they want to fill. At some level, they have an interest in helping something or someone. Maybe they Google "animal rescues" or "battered women's shelters" or whatever.

At that point they get thousands, if not millions of returns. So then they add their state or county or town to the search terms, and they get a few to a few dozen more specific returns.

That's still a lot, and it's unlikely they are going to send a check or donate online to all of them. There has to be some way to decide which one to support.

At that point they are probably going to be looking for a website or social media page. Who are you, and what are you all about? What real impact or change are you accomplishing?

That process is exactly the same as it is for someone looking for a product. You want to buy a used car so you search "used cars". At that point you may not know if you want a Chevrolet, or Ford or Toyota or whatever. You get a list of used car dealers that are within your search zone, and then you check to see if they have a website and look at what's for sale. There are dozens of bright, shiny cars that fit your basic criteria to pick from on each site. You don't want to visit, much less drive all of them, so you start looking for a way to zero in on just a few.

What happens next?  Well, I don't know about you, but I start looking for the dealer that is going to give me the best value for my dollar. Is their price lower, do they give you a free gas card if you test drive their car, or do they offer a free oil change for a year? I also look at the general premises if they have a picture of their lot or showroom. Does it look clean, organized and at least somewhat permanent?  Have they been in town for a while? Do they have good online reviews?

In short, why should I  pick one car lot over all the rest?

Why would a donor be any different?  There are lots of charities that all focus on the same problem. Their "bright shiny cars" are the stories they tell about who or what they have helped, and 90% of them are going to have good stories, because they really try to do good work.

At that point, two things happen. Maybe one story connects emotionally with the donor more than others, and they just hit the donate button. Those are the "impulse donors". They drop a few bucks and promptly forget about it. Those are "Tom's" donors.

Other visitors do some digging to see how many people have been helped in total and investigate  how much money it takes to help them in a significant way. These can be your long-term supporters.

The latter are probably the people with more money to donate. Nobody misses a single $5 donation even if it is misspent or the charity goes out of business, but if they want to spend $1000 or $10,000 dollars or more, they are going to look under the hood of that bright shiny car. Or maybe they can't afford that much, but they want to send a small donation every payday. They are looking for a connection, not a moment of satisfaction.

And that's where the marketing mindset comes in. The sooner you step out in front and say "We helped change the lives of 100 people for a day at a cost per person of just $10.00/day" the easier it is for the donor to see that $1000 will help one person for more than three months, or all 100 for a day.

Contrast that with the group that says, "You can help more people like Jane. Please give generously". How many more people? What do they really need to help another Jane?  Exactly what is a generous donation? They don't say.

Yes, it does reduce the giving to a dollars-and-cents equation. And yes, the emotional appeal was the catalyst between the donors desire to give and solving your money problem. But the donation was assured by the concrete statement showing the value delivered for the donation. It gives the donor a reason to select your charity to support at a much higher level than just an impulse donation.

Of course, you have to continue to connect with that donor to retain their interest. Maybe through a website, a blog, a newsletter or just by keeping fresh stories on your social media page. But first you have to cultivate the desire for an ongoing relationship.

In the retail world, they call that building brand loyalty. In the nonprofit world, it's donor retention. Whatever you call it, it is all a form of marketing. With all due respect to "Tom" I think you ignore that at your peril.

Need help with your messaging?  Check out my website at

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