Why’s the for-profit world so much better than us at retention?

Be honest, how do you judge people or brands? Do you do it weeks, months or years after you first encounter them? Or is your judgment formed in the very moment you interact?

Why aren’t we doing more to build relationships in the moment rather than trying to fix something that need never have been broken?

True relationship building occurs during those times a donor experiences any of your touchpoints. Whether s/he’s receiving a communication, surfing your website, talking to a staff member on the phone, attending an event, or sending you an email. That’s the precious moment your relationship with them hangs in the balance.

That’s the reason commercials are so keen to engage with us in that moment. You can’t buy a product or service these days without immediately being asked about the experience. So important is this information they even incentivize us to give it.

So what are we doing to nurture relationships? Nothing. When it comes to a donor’s thoughts, feelings or ideas the only input we are setup to accept, process and act on is the data they provide on pre-printed forms for giving or doing. There’s no room for human interaction. ‘Computer says no!’

Can it really be that airlines, restaurants, coffee shops, hairdressers, grocers and so on care more about their customers than we do our donors? They certainly act as though they do. It’s shameful to think that around 35% of outbound calls in the for profit sector are tied to customer service versus less than 1% in our own!

In the commercial world there is whole new set of jargon that’s missing from our lexicon. Enterprise Feedback Management systems are separate CRMs designed to centralize ‘Voice of the Customer’ feedback. This is feedback specifically tied to interactions across channel. An entire technology industry exists to support this activity. But they don’t sell into our sector because there’s zero demand for data on donor opinions and feedback.

Given that retention rates are in the high 90’s in the commercial world compared with barely 40% in our own, can we really afford to continue to ignore donors? After all their opinions, reactions, and feelings exist whether we ignore them or not. These same feelings and experiences dictate whether they stay or go.

Shouldn’t we be doing more, in the moment to make them stay, rather than wasting our money on so called ‘loyalty’ programs that:

  1. Have never been proven to work (!!!)
  2. Are reactive rather than pro-active

The truth is our transactional, data-only view of the world provides no answers as to why people leave us.

Transactional data cannot, no matter how much you torture it, tell you why something happened. Take your website for example. Transactional data can’t listen to your supporters and answer questions like this:

  • Why do people click on one thing and not another, is it location, lack of interest, lack of understanding?
  • Why do those who don’t click on anything behave that way? Did they still get value from it?
  • Why do visitors spend X amount of time on our site? Are they really engaged or is our navigation really poor?
  • Why is it that we only have one percent conversion rate?
  • Why did 99% of people take no action?

Wouldn’t you like to answer these questions? The only way you can is by asking the donors at the time of their interaction. The tools to do so exist and are proven to work. That’s not the problem. Rather it’s one of a shift in mind-set. Do we choose to see donors as people, to value them, to listen and engage with them the way the commercial world has done with such success? Or do we continue to ignore them until we want something from them?

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Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Managing Director at DonorVoice
Charlie is MD of Donor Voice, the experience and relationship company. He helps charities drastically reduce donor churn by using a unique set of tools for delivering donor led campaigns. Voted a top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising's National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101 Fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.