There has been so much written about overall donor retention. Particularly, the fact most nonprofit organizations are hovering around 40% as their retention rate, seems to focus everyone’s attention there.

If Overall Donor Retention is Poor, New Donor Retention is Worse

Yes, the words above are strong and pointed, and with good reason! If you think 40% is below average, how does approximately 25% sound for new donor retention?

Nearly every nonprofit works diligently and spends mightily to attract new donors. We could spend this entire post sharing and discussing the stats around new donor acquisition costs, but let’s leave it to the direct mail and special event acquisition experts while we focus on retention.

What Can Be Done to Improve New Donor Retention?

First, you will be glad to know there are no deep secrets or extremely expensive technology tools required to change this picture if you have less than 1,200 new donors per year. 1,200 new donors per year equals 100 or less new donors per month, or an average of five per business day! (My estimate is such a flow or less of new donors is the case for 67% or more of the one million plus registered charities in the United States).

Egg in spoonFive per day puts into perspective the amount of personal attention and time needed to make each and every new donor feel special. Just five small actions per day can make every single one of them feel special!

1. Their Retention Rises If a New Donor Feels Special

All of us in the nonprofit sector find ourselves so caught up in the multitude of activities facing us each day we often forget a few small gestures and actions would make new donors feel special. We will explore several of those possible gestures below. As we do, please pause and think if they would make you feel special receiving them. If so, then new donors will undoubtedly feel the same way.

2. Sending a Standard Thank You Letter is Only a Start

Being a purveyor of fundraising software for 30 years, has allowed me to help thousands of nonprofits create and store their thank you letters. For some, it is quite an improvement to be sending out a professional letter or email in a timely manner. Frankly though, it is just bringing you up to average or the expected standard in the eyes of the new donor.

For the new donor to feel special and for a relationship to flourish, you must be above average. Otherwise, the new donor feels like they have already helped you and perhaps they should move on to help others. This is precisely why the thank you letter is just the beginning!

3. New Donors Know What is Automated & What is Not

This is why each of the following gestures and actions make such an incredible difference in allowing the new donor to feel special. They know you or someone affiliated with your organization made an extra effort to start a relationship. If you can do three or more of them over the first six months they will remember you and will be 2-3 times more likely to become a multi-year donor. Here are just a sampling of the gestures and actions:

  1. Add a handwritten personal note or P.S. to the thank you letter
  2. Better yet, send a separate hand written note with personal items within
  3. Call and thank them
  4. Invite them for a tour of your facility either in person or an on-line virtual version
  5. Have either the Executive Director or a Board Member call to thank them
  6. Invite them to lunch or dinner to thank them (usually above a certain dollar amount)
  7. Send a short survey asking their opinion (short being 5 questions or less)
  8. Send a picture or article depicting what their gift is specifically achieving
  9. Invite them to volunteer in some manner
  10. Email a video depicting your mission and/or what their gift is achieving
  11. If they were a donor due to the actions of another donor or board member ask the connector person to communicate why they, the connector, support your mission
  12. Call and ask them their opinion on something related to your mission and their own work or hobby

4. Some of the Gestures can be Achieved via Volunteers 

The use of certain volunteers to bring the extra gestures and actions to life in a cost effective manner is not only practical, but it also allows gesture #9 to be fulfilled!

5. Building Donor Relationships is Just Like Personal Friendship Building

Think back to your most recent personal friendships which blossomed. Did they not involve multiple manners of communications in a wide variety of settings? I am betting the creation of those most recent friendships were fun and did not feel like work. The creation of special donor relationships can and should happen in a similar fashion. The process should be fun for both parties. In fact, the more fun and special the new donor has and feels the more referrals they will make. Such personal referrals naturally spawn much higher new donor retention.

Higher New Donor Retention Leads to Even Higher Overall Donor Retention 

I know the above statement is common sense, if not, common knowledge. Such is the case for all of the suggestions above. I trust you agree there were no hidden secrets or expensive new technology to make them come to life. Most are gestures and actions, which have been used for centuries in building human relationships. Please evaluate the myriad of daily tasks at your nonprofit to see if these simple gestures could be implemented. The results and rewards will justify their use over and over!

img via artbystevejohnson

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.