Amy Eisenstein recently sat down with Roger Craver, author and editor of The Agitator to discuss retention fundraising.

You can watch the interview here:

Be sure to check out her interviews with Adrian Sargeant and Tom Ahern.

Full Transcript:

Amy: Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein, and today I’m with Roger Craver, a veteran in the field of fundraising, and the editor of “The Agitator.” Welcome, Roger. Thanks for being here.

Roger: Good to be here, Amy. Thank you.

Amy: Excellent. So today I want to talk about donor attitudes. I understand you’ve done some research, and recently written a book on the subject. Can you tell me about it?

Roger: Absolutely. This is something that almost no fundraiser understands or does anything about, but it may be the salvation for most. Here’s why. What a donor has by way of attitude, good, bad, or indifferent, toward a non-profit will influence the giving, it’s because attitude influences behavior.

What most non-profits don’t realize, it is their behavior, the actions they take toward a donor that influences that attitude. So it isn’t a matter of whether the economy is good or bad, whether there’s too much competition, that’s all external nonsense by way of excuses for boards. What really matters is whether the organization is taking the right steps to influence that donor’s attitude.

So the decision about whether a donor stays or goes is really in the hands of the organization, and that’s what retention fundraising is all about, how to measure attitude, how to change attitude, steps you need to take to hold onto donors and keep from driving them out the exit.

Amy: Yeah, it’s such an important topic. We’re always talking about retention these days in fundraising.

Roger: Yeah, it’s like the clergy talking about Heaven. A lot of them talk about it, damn few of them are going there. Lot’s of fundraisers talk about retention, but don’t do much about it.

Amy: So good, let’s talk about that. What are some simple steps that smaller organizations can take that will have an impact on that? What should organizations be doing?

Roger: Well in the book there are five easy retention wins. These are five things you can do to save money, to get your retention rate up, and doesn’t take much time. So just let me give you a couple of the simplest ones.

Amy: Great.

Roger: First of all, you can learn to say thank you. The majority of American non-profits don’t bother thanking their donors ever, let alone thanking them in a timely way or in a heartfelt way. So we know from the studies we’ve done of hundreds of organizations, here and in the United Kingdom, that if you thank your donor properly and in a heartfelt way, you’ll improve the retention rate right there by about 15 points.

Amy: Yeah, wow.

Roger: So say “thank you” would be my first piece of advice.

Amy: Be a little more a specific. How should organizations say “thank you?” I assume you’re not talking about the tax receipt.

Roger: No, that’s called creative receiving. That’s not “thank you.” Several ways. One, you can write them a nice little short letter, put it in the mail, not email. But a hand-written note would be better, but a type-written note would be fine. It should be done promptly, meaning somewhere within the first week after their gift because after that donors just either get angry because you haven’t been responsive, or they forget about it and move on.
So timing is important, and the fact that it’s heartfelt, not a receipt, is important. So those are the only two ingredients.

The other, simplest, way is to pick up the phone, and spend a minute thanking them because our research shows that even if they don’t answer the phone and you leave them a voicemail, the retention rates go up.

Amy: Excellent. So just simple way to get your retention rates up and have donor loyalty increase, right?

Roger: Right.

Amy: So what’s another step?

Roger: Another step is to ask for their feedback. All human relationships depend on two-way conversations, and I don’t know anyone that’s in a relationship, unless they’re in a relationship with a rock, that doesn’t get feedback from their partner. Well, the same with a donor. Yet almost all non-profits have a one-way feed when it comes to getting donors’ feedback.

So put a feedback mechanism on your website, put a simple set of questions in your email, in your acknowledgements. There are all kinds of ways to get feedback. If your folks want to go on “The Agitator,” that’s, right in the center of the homepage is a free-forever widget you can install on your website, and it will provide feedback in an automated way.

Amy: Oh, fantastic. We always talk about “fundraising is about relationships,” and yet so many organizations don’t understand what that means, and they have these one-way communications. Like you said, that’s not a relationship.

Roger: Right. The things that make for a human relationship, and that’s what fundraising is all about, are very well-known to social science. This isn’t some conjecture, some mystery, or pie-in-the-sky stuff.
First thing that’s required is consistency. I can’t tell you I’ll meet you at 1:00 today, and show up at 2:00 and have you believing I’m a very consistent person. If I promise you tomorrow, I’ll be here, Amy, at 1:00, I promise and I don’t show up until 2:30, that’s about the end of that relationship because there’s no consistency there.

Amy: There’s no trust, too, right?

Roger: That’s right, and consistency plus reliability is what creates trust, and trust is the pedestal on which all human relationships, including the business of raising and giving money, is based. This is simple common sense stuff based on research, but it’s amazing to me how rare common sense is in this industry.

Amy: Yeah, but the good news is that you have research to back it up, so there’s no excuse anymore not to be doing it.

Roger: Absolutely. None.

Amy: Yeah, one more step.

Roger: One more step is to be boring. One of the things that organizations do is they keep thinking they always have to send donors a piece of mail that’s fresh, that has never been used before. “Oh, we can’t send that same year-end appeal that we did so well on last year because they’ve seen it.”

Well, I can guarantee you there’s no donor sitting around waiting to see if your year-end appeal for 2016 is different than your one for 2015.

Amy: Such a good point. They don’t remember it anyway, right?

Roger: No, exactly, and frequently changing things, redesigning a tray, getting a new designer, all that sort of thing simply contributes to the inconsistency. It’s like if I’m an environmental group and I send you an acquisition piece, and ask you to support my work on behalf of the whales, and you send in a check, and then I send you a thank you letter talking about strip-mining, you’re going to wonder, “What is this organization?”

That’s the importance of consistency. But being consistent in the message, and in the look of the organization, which many people who have to look at this stuff month after month inside the organization come to consider boring is just the wrong way to look at it. So be bored, that’s my advice.

Amy: Excellent. So interesting, and something that doesn’t seem like common sense. It seems counter-intuitive. But, now that you say it, it seems so obvious, right?

Roger: Yeah, exactly.

Amy: Your donors want to be familiar with how your pieces look, and know what to look for.

Roger: Right, exactly.

Amy: Yeah, great. Well, any last words of wisdom you’d like to leave?

Roger: Yeah, the best the thing you could do is spend an hour-and-a-half and read that book.

Amy: Of course, we will definitely have the link to . . . where should we have it to?

Roger: You can have it at

Amy: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Roger: You’re welcome, Amy. My pleasure.

Amy: Take care.

Roger: Thank you.

Amy: I hope you found this video empowering. As a member of the fundraising community, I hope that you will empower others by sharing this video with your friends and followers. If you’d like more videos, and tips on fundraising, please visit my website Thanks for all you do to make the world a better place.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.