Lynne Wester recently joined us for a webinar in which she shared what you can do to develop a successful donor relations program, what works and what doesn’t, and how can you improve your retention rate.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript

Steven: Good afternoon everyone if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar “Donor Retention is not Speed Dating” and my name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the VP of marketing here at Bloomerang, and I will be moderating today’s discussion.

I just want to go through a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. I’m recording this presentation and I’ll be sharing the recording a little later on this afternoon. If you have to leave early or if you want to watch the content again, or maybe share it with someone in your office, you will be able to do that. Just look for an email from me a little later on this afternoon, that will also include these slides from today as well.

As you’re listening today, please feel free to use the chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time for Q and A at the end, and we’d love to see your questions and your comments, so don’t be shy about that at all. Send questions our way and we will answer just as many as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour.

Just in case this is your first Bloomerang webinar with us, welcome. Thanks for being here. We do these webinars every Thursday usually around 1:00. They’re always free, always educational. In addition to those webinars, Bloomerang also offers some really great donor management software. So if you are in the market for that or maybe thinking about switching or exploring other options, check out our website. You can check out all of our features, you can download a video demo and learn all about us. We’d love for you to do that. Without further ado, I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. She’s Lynne Wester. Hey Lynne, how’s it going?

Lynne: It’s going really well. Thanks.

Steven: I’m so happy for you to be here. I know you are super busy. You’re speaking at basically every conference in the fundraising world it feels like. So I appreciate you carving an hour out of your day to do this. I want to brag on you just a little bit before you get started.

If you guys don’t know Lynne, you’ve got to know her, you’ve got to follow her online. She is a frequent conference speaker like I said. She is definitely a well known resource for donor relations and fundraising expertise. She’s been published in the Washington Post, CURRENTS Magazine, Chronicle of Philanthropy, and she writes on LinkedIn a lot, really great articles there as well.

She’s got her own blog, we’ll be sharing links to that as well. She does a lot of webinars as well herself. I’m just super exited Lynne, so I’m not going to take any more time away from you. Why don’t you go ahead and kick us off.

Lynne: Awesome. Thanks so much Steven. If anybody wants to tweet, you can tweet me @donorguru and also you can reach Steven at Bloomerang. We are going to talk today about donor retention and this hits across all industries, across all types of nonprofit. If anytime you have questions, go ahead and type them right there in the chat or the question feature, and I will try to get to those as we go through.

I wanted to first start off with my lovely idea of speed dating. So growing up, I’m a kid of the ’80s and the ’90s, so one of my favorite movies is the one you see on your screen. Which is called Coming to America, and in Coming to America, Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy go to a great bar in Queens where they go to a speed dating round where they run to lots of interesting ladies and a couple of gentlemen there as well. But I wanted us to think about the way our donors might feel when they first come to our organization. There is some really good news about our first time donors that are coming to us in droves, and then there’s also some interesting news.

The first thing is understanding that as fundraising professionals, we need to really understand what our retention rate is. The first thing you need to do after this webinar, is go back to your shop and figure out what your first time donor retention rate is for the donors who give their first gifts to your organization. Secondly, what is your overall retention rate?

Some of you already know this, but here’s what we have found and again Bloomerang has been industry leaders in the fact that most folks don’t understand their retention rate. If you don’t know your retention rate, that’s something you really need to know because I bet all of you know how much fundraising money you need to gain this year. But many of you may not know how much it is that you need to retain. Less than 45% of our fundraisers know their current retention rate, which is simply not a good figure. We really need to understand that in order to raise more money we actually have to keep the money we have.

I travel a lot. I’m on the road about 300 nights a year. That’s my shoulder there in the image in the green shirt, and that right there is my neighbor, we’ll call him Tim. Tim is a lot like of our fundraising shops. So Tim sits down on the plane, he sits down next to me and he proceeds to take off his tie. Now, for those of you who are on the phone, you don’t understand that I have that effect on most men when they get on the plane with me. Please understand that he took off his tie, he wrapped it right around his eyes and he proceeded to sit like that for 4 hours and 13 minutes. Who was counting? I was counting because I thought it was a very rude way to sit on a plane. But Tim has on his blinders, and I say that many of us have on our blinders when it comes to donor retention.

Fortunately for us, Bloomerang has done great work pointing out donor retention numbers in every report. Every year they issue a report about fundraising retention, and the results are in. They have a 2013 and a 2014 report. Sixty percent of our donors don’t give again, so 6 out of 10 overall donors don’t give again. That’s not good numbers. Modern business tends to keep between 85 and 95% of their customers. If we were to open up a business and call ourselves that instead of just a nonprofit, we would not be in good company.

As a matter of fact, with our first time donors that number is even worse. We only retain 22.9% of our first time donors. So that means overall that 8 out of 10 of donors who give their first gift never give again. That’s really not an acceptable number. We really need to figure out how to solve that problem, and that’s what I’m going to talk to you about today, is how we solve that donor retention problem. This equates out to real numbers and cents. So if 8 out of 10 of your first time donors never give again, then you’re going to spend your life on a hamster wheel trying to raise more money. When what you should have done is spent the time keeping the donors that you have. These numbers are something for you to really look into.

What does it mean? It also means that in order to raise more money or acquisition is far more expensive. Seven times more expensive than it is to keep the donors you have. So it’s cheaper to keep the donors you have than it is to go out and acquire new donors. At some time said that we’re chasing out tails and acquiring new donors. One of the things we have to do is spend time focusing on the donors that we already have. It is a higher return on investment to renew your donors than it is to go out and get a new one.

In order to do that we have to understand a couple of things. Number one, that this is not about us and our organization. This is solely about the donor and their relationship. One of the fun things that they always say about Millenials is that their parents told them they are all special snowflakes. Well, all of our donors are special snowflakes and we have to treat them that way.

What does that mean? That means that the amount of the donor’s last gift is the least important thing you know about the donor, and instead the behavior that they have with your organization. The way they give, their giving behavior is the most important thing that we know about them.

If donors really don’t ask for a lot when they make a gift, and so I’m going to put up this slide and then let some of you chuckle silently back in your offices as you figure this out. Donors ask for us two simple things. In order for a donor to give again, a donor wants to be thanked and then told the impact of their gift. We have to thank a donor sincerely and in a timely manner and then we have to tell them the impact of their gift. What we’re doing is we’re failing on a couple of those points. We may be doing a good job at thanking them, but we may not be able to tell them what their money is doing. We really have to be able to do both. It sounds like it’s not a complicated thing, but it’s actually in essence is something that we have to put time and thought into. Rather than thinking about how we’re going to get their next gift and what our solicitation is going to look like, we have to focus on what’s called the Four Pillars of Donor Relations.

On your screen right now you see a nice chart that I had someone draw for me when I wrote the book “Four Pillars of Donor Relations.” What we want to talk about is that donor relations is both an art and a science. If we understand donor relations in a modern, sophisticated fundraising shop, we also understand that donor relations is an umbrella term that encompasses four pillars of work.

On your left hand side, you have what I call the Science, and that pertains to the donor’s gift, the actual donation that they’ve just made and our goal there is to steward the gift because you cannot steward a donor. So using stewardship and donor relations interchangeably may be your first misstep. They are two completely different things, that’s why they’re two different words. Stewardship is telling the donor what we did with their money, how we spent it, and that we spent it according to donor’s intent. Really important that we spell out for the donor that we spent it according to their intent and that this is what it went on, and here’s the impact at our organization.

Acknowledgment is everything from the receipt to the acknowledgment letter, to the gift acceptance. What the donors tell us they need from our science of donor relations through these two pillars is transparency, gratitude and impact. Their needs are transparency, gratitude and impact. It’s really important for us to meet those needs.

And on the other side is Art, and that really deals with the donor or the person behind the gift, the “giving soul” as they call it. What their wants are, are recognition and engagement. Those are the two pillars that cover that. So that’s how we recognize them for their gift both publicly and privately, and how we engage them with their generosity. Gone are the days of, “Here’s our finest coffee mug or we’re going to list you in a list of names.” People don’t do that anymore, because we know that’s not meaningful to our donors.

Instead we’re talking about access, information and experiences. What are the access, information and experiences our donors need from us? What does that mean for our engagement with them? And if we provide those wants, then we will retain our donors, and their money will grow, meaning their giving will grow and so will their influence. But in order to do donor relations really well, we have to understand a couple of tenets.

Number one is that really understanding that when a donor is going to give again, that we meet their needs and their wants. But we also have to understand that 35% of the population is not going to be charitable, they are not givers. It doesn’t matter if we had a small cancer kid carrying a dog with one black eye, during an earthquake with Sarah McLachlan playing in the background, that they’re just not going to give us money. There’s no cause too big or too little that they’re going to give to. We need to stop chasing those non-donors or spending tons of money on acquiring people who aren’t going to give and instead invest in those that are going to give.

I often say to the nonprofits I work with, “Take 10% of your acquisition budget and move it to donor retention and your ROI will shoot through the roof.” Firstly, we have to look at what the behaviors of those donors is and plan, thank you and impact towards those behaviors. If you’re plan still says that $25 we do this and $500 we do this, and $1,000 we do this, you’re missing the boat. Instead, we go, “For first time donors, we do this. For loyal donors, we do this.” That’s how it has to go.

What does that means? That means that the way we look at our donors both in reporting, in the way they come through our pipeline, it makes a big difference to us. If you’re still pulling your donor base, based on LYBUNT and SYBUNT, and that’s last year donors and but not this year are unfortunately not this year, and some years but unfortunately not this year. Then those are the most shallow ways to look at a donor. Instead, we need to look at their behavior because their behavior is the continued indicator of how they will support us and how we need to thank them. And so what do I mean? Let me go through these reports and show you what we use in order to build this behavior.

You need to have a giving pyramid report. That’s what donors give at what level to you and how many donors you have at each level, so we can know how to build our programs and what kind of resources we’re going to need.

Number two, Consecutive Donor Report. How many donors do you have? Can we get five years consecutively, 10 years consecutively, 15, 20, 25 years consecutively. We also know that the consecutive donor, someone who gives five out of seven years, is going to be your number one plan giving prospect. Those folks that give loyally at any amount, they are huge plan giving prospects. So you want to make sure that you know who these folks are.

Then you need a First-Time Donor Report. Who is coming in the door? Now, if we’re losing 80% of those, we want to hold on to 80%, not lose 80%. Who are those first time donors? And what can we do special for them?

Retention Report. Those are the reports I talked about in the beginning. What is your first time donor retention rate? Then what is your overall donor retention rate? What does that look like for your organization? Have they gone up? Has it gone down? I can tell you that nationally our overall donor retention rates have gone down. So how do we correct that? We correct that by doing donor relations for our donors based on their behavior.

Donor Giving Channel Report. This is a great report because we know that the way a donor gives tells us a lot about them. Do you they give online? Do they give through the phone? Do they use a credit card? Do they mail in a check? Do they come to an event and leave money? How the donor came to us is how we want to do this. So if I gave online and you’re sending me something in the mail, you’re already missing the boat. You really don’t want to ignore the fact that the way a donor communicates to you and gives to you is a key indicator for their preference.

The next is a Lapse Donor Reacquire. Say a donor goes away, they gave in 2013 but they didn’t give last year and they come back to us, we want to go ahead and have that behavior noted and be able to look at that so that we can have a special stewardship and donor relations touch for them.

Then finally the Increase Report. These are donors who’ve given 125% of their gift last year. If last year I gave $100, and this year I gave $150. We really want to have them on our report so that we can do something special. What their behavior does dictates what our behavior would be, because it’s no longer good enough to say, “Well, we do this for $25 donors and this for $1,000 donors,” because remember that many donors make test gifts to our organization, and you don’t want a test gift to be your missed opportunity for further giving. These are the reports you’ve got to have.

You also have to remember that everything that we do has to revolve around the donor, from events, to stewardship, to engagement, to acknowledgment, to recognition. Everything we do revolves around the donor. And so our goal is not to meet the needs of our organization, but to meet the needs of our donors. That’s really important that we tell our donors that what they do matters and that they have an impact on the world around them.

Here’s a classic example of what we think donors want. That’s tchotchkes or gifts, plaques, certificates, an honor roller or listing of donor, or fancy events. Donors have told us time and time again, “Please don’t spend your time, money and resources on that. Instead, give me access information and experience.”

Donors have told us, there’s a great Yale study that says that anytime you give a donor a tchotchke with your logo on it, their next gift goes down 48%. And so that’s really important to understand that if you waste their money on items, they’re not going to come back to you.

Here’s what donors really want. They want to access, information and experiences. And what does that mean? They want access to the people that benefit from their gift. That is a hard pill for some of us to swallow because we think naturally it means access to leadership of our organization. And frankly, that’s not necessarily who all donors want access to. They really want access to the people that benefit from their funds.

So the first and most meaningful thank you note that a donor can receive is from someone who benefits from their funds. The second is that it’s coming from a volunteer or someone who gives their time to the organization. The third is to a paid staff member, because they know we get paid to thank them. Information, and that’s information before anyone else receives it. Before they read about it in the newspaper, what is it that we can give them as far as information? If you have a new director, can you tell them that before it hits the news. They want information before anyone else receives it, even if it’s perceived before. Understand that access, information and experience.

Experience is something that the donor has that I call a sensory and that is, what is it that I can do to really involve that donor in their philanthropy, in their generosity in our organization? And that is experiences, be it a tour, be it meeting a beneficiary. It doesn’t matter. It’s access, information and experiences. That’s what our donors have told us. Thousands of donors we surveyed, they told us these are what they want. What you need to figure out as an organization, is it your decision time? Are you going to be the kind of organization that fills by mailbox with the stuff on the left-hand side of the screen? I can tell you that as my mail from two months last year. Some of the address labels are misspelled. Some of them didn’t even have the right address, I wonder how they got to me. But I think the mail lady knows that I get a lot of direct mail from nonprofits, even though I’ve never made a gift using a check. Instead, are you going to write handwritten notes to your donors and make meaningful connections to them?

We’re going to talk about what this means to our donor base. The good news is this applies to all of our donors. Gone are the days when we can say, “Well, my donors are older, so they don’t do digital. They only do print or they like their name on a list.” That’s not true. Those 60% of donors 65 and over give online and 59% of donors younger than 65 give online. So there’s no difference. Number one consumer of social media is our older donors. Age is not a factor in this. What is a factor is that our donors have gotten tired of the behavior that nonprofits have with them.

So let me ask you all to think about the number one reason why donors don’t give to an organization a second time, and let me tell you the answer to that. Think about why a donor doesn’t give again.

The number one reason why donor don’t give again, in other words the number one reason why donations leave you is because they’re over solicited. Meaning you have sent them way too many solicitations after they’ve made their first gift. What is your ask to thank ratio at your nonprofit? And understand that as your nonprofit goes and as we go in the industry, your donors don’t understand, there’s no such thing as a soft ask. That’s like saying you’re partially pregnant. That just doesn’t exist. What is your ask to thank ratio? For every time a donor makes a gift, is your organization then thanking them and telling them what you did with their money.

If it is, then I can tell you that your retention numbers are going to be high. If it’s an out of whack ask to thank ratio, then your retention numbers are going to be very low. Let me give you an example. I gave a gift on Giving Tuesday of last year, I gave a lot of gifts to the Heifer International, I bought a goat. I gave a gift and since I made that gift in December of 2014, I’ve been resolicited over 50 times. Over 50 times. I’ve received more than 40 emails, I’ve received four direct mail pieces, but I’ve yet to receive a sincere thank you that didn’t involve an ask. What does that mean for your organization? Is your ask to thank ratio out of whack? I would bet so.

For example, I received this in the mail one fine day, sitting in my home in North Carolina, beautiful North Carolina that I miss so much. I’m in Ohio right now. I received this card and it says, “As our proud supporter, please detach it and place it properly in your wallet.” I looked at the mailing and went, “All right, this is worth a try.” I put it in my wallet, I drove to the airport. I got pulled over by the police, and “Can I see your license and registration ma’am?” and I whipped out my annual fund supporter card, and after I woke up from being tazed by the lovely police officer, I realize that my annual fund supporter card wasn’t going to get me anywhere. But I thought, “You know what? Maybe this isn’t the right situation.”

Instead, I got to the airport, I got to the gate which is wonderful and I got there to my gate agent Tracy, and I said, “Hey, Tracy,” and she said, “Good morning Lynne, How are you doing?” I said, “I’m good.” I whipped out my annual fund supporter card and Tracy went, “Can I get TSA over to gate A3?” Why? Because what am I going to do with that card? What is the point of having that? Why did you mail that to me? Is that really something as a donor that I’m going to show to other people? It’s not a picture of my dog or a grandkid. It’s an annual fund supporter card, and by the way, I didn’t support an annual fund. I supported a person.

People give to people, and the minute you include words like “annual fund” or “campaign” or “designation” or “joint credit,” people start running away from you. So stop talking to us like we understand that.

Instead, we have to be more imaginative. We have to write brilliantly, we have to package it superbly and present it in a way that would captivate, thrill and inspire. That sounds difficult, but I’m going to show you examples of how we can do it correctly and some places that miss the mark sometimes. Your first rule of thumb is no thasking, that’s T-H-A-S-K-I-N-G. It’s the biggest cuss word in all of fundraising, and that is when you combine a thank and an ask. No thasking. Thasking is the cardinal rule. Why is there no thanking an asking combined? Because it’s insincere. If you’re going to ask someone, ask. If you’re going to thank, you thank. But the minute you put a solicitation in the newsletter, the minute you include a business reply with the receipt, you taint that thank you with an ask.

Donors don’t understand terms like soft ask. They don’t understand that and they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t have to understand that. What they should expect is a sincere thank you and impact their gift. People are going, “Wow, this thask thing, I wonder if we do it.”

Let me show you an example of a thask. This is a classic example on your screen right now, the thask. It’s one that I actually received. I’m not making stuff up. This is right for you. I gave a gift in December 2013. I’m a baller because I’m a consultant, but I gave $15, because that’s how I roll. Big dollar gifts right there. This is really a test gift. I gave $15 to St. Jude in December of 2013. There’s a few problem with this communication. I’m going to show just some of them. First, they have my name and my address up there so they know it can mail to me. Then down here it says, “Dear friend.” Well A, we’ve never shared a beer, so I’m not your friend. I say that in jest, but I’m not your friend. All you had to do was drop down the mail merge field, I know that doesn’t cost extra and say “Dear Lynne.”

Then it says, “Your generous gift of $15 in December of 2013.” Wait a minute, you wrote this letter on January 17 of 2014. So you’re telling me that it took you a month and a half to get me my thank you letter? Good gravy. Unacceptable. You have 24 to 48 hours to get me a receipt and then five to seven days to get me a letter of thanks.

It says, “It will help save the lives of St. Jude children like Reece.” No it won’t. Reece has a brain tumor, $15 is not going to save Reece’s life. Fifteen dollars at most hospitals as many of you know, may not even buy Reece a Band-Aid. Don’t over exaggerate and don’t tell me that I’m going to save her life. What you could have said is my gift combined with others will make a difference, but its sure as heck not going to save her life.

Then it says, “Your time and consideration mean more than you’ll ever know.” So now you’re calling me simple because you say I’ll never understand it. Then it says at the bottom, “Please accept the enclosed stickers to show how the children and their families appreciate your kindness.” I’m not 9. I don’t need stickers. There was no reason to spend the extra money to send me stickers. It doesn’t mean anything to me and I don’t have a sticker book to put them in. Many of you think that I probably sound really harsh here, but this is the type of letter that goes out all the time and the type of letter that we have to stop doing.

The other thing is, look at the top of that page. On my thank you is an ask. It says, “Hey, your last gift wasn’t good enough. Can you enclose more and by the way, how about $23?” because that sounds like a normal amount, $23. So what does this thask say about this organization? This thask says that St. Jude doesn’t know who I am. It doesn’t care who I am. Then I’m going to get the same letter that all 10,000 other donors get. You know what? They’re not going to retain me as a donor, because they’ve looked at my dollar amount and said that dictates what kind of person I am.

Instead, we have to look at the behavior. How do we solve this? Let me show you.

This is a spreadsheet that we use at my clients to show that every single donor based on their donor behavior, gets different types of communication. They’re color coded to serve many purposes and they also have a method of delivery. If you want to, you can email me and I will send you this spreadsheet, my email contact information is at the end of this presentation. So you don’t have to recreate it. A consecutive year donor of 25 or more years gets something different than a first time donor. Give something different than a loyal donor. As you can see as we move through, Jay P. Graves are our plan giving donors. But there’s a behavior on our end for every behavior on the donor’s end.

If you’re a staff member you get a different thank you than an alum. That means you get a different thank you than a non-alum. Why? Because they’re different people and everybody deserves to be a special snowflake. Each behavior has a purpose. It’s either to retain the donor or their behavior, stewardship of the gift or to engage the donor. Every single communication has a purpose and every communication has an MOD or method of delivery. Because if I give online, you need to thank me online. If I give in paper, thank me on paper. That doesn’t mean that I can’t do some of both, but I’m telling you my strong preference, and you ignore it by sending me a letter in the mail. Not good.

Let’s look at what some of these pieces can look like. So you all have been on this phone, you’re like, “Okay, I’m 30 minutes in Lynne. You haven’t gotten me anything to do yet.” The first thing I’m going to do is answer some questions, then I’m going to show you examples of what this looks like.

“What happens when the donor’s mission don’t align with the organizations mission?” Then I wouldn’t accept that gift. If their needs don’t fit with your mission, find them a mission that their needs align with.

Mindy says, “Lots of our donations are memorials from people who knew someone who passed away or a friend of someone who lost someone to disease. How do we get those folks to change their one time gift mindset?” You show them the impact of their gift, and I’m going to show you examples of that. Good question.

Heather, “So much of what you say are things that I’ve observed with younger donors. Do you have any information on the age range of who is responding to this study?” The studies are not just for younger donors. They are set… one of the biggest points I use is the Bank of America high network survey. But these are tactics regardless of age.

Megan, “We don’t solicit to anyone in the same fiscal year that they give. They get a thank you note from either a student or a staff member. However, as soon as a new fiscal year began we resolicit. We send more than one solicitation a month, though by different channels. Is over soliciting before the gift a major cause of donor loss?”

Absolutely and understand Megan, I hate to break this to you, but most of your donors do not understand the fiscal year and don’t give according to your fiscal year. Most donors care about a calendar year, that’s January to December. If you try to put them on a fiscal year calendar, they may not care about that. So understand that may cause confusion for them.

Jody, “How does we personalize a thank-you when we have hundreds of donors to thank?” I’m going to show you how.

Tim, “Is it okay to send a year-end donation receipt summary in December and include an ask in this letter?” You don’t want to include an ask when you’re giving them a receipt. So you don’t want to include an ask when you have a receipt. So an ask is an ask and a thank as a thank. Great questions.

Let’s look at some of our examples of what we can do. The first thing you need to do, is look at, what is your first impression for donors. Your first impression for donors is either the online confirmation page of their gift or your receipt. When I give online to your organization, what does it look like? I can tell you right now that many of them look like, “Your cart is empty” or “Thank you for your transaction” or “Your transaction is complete.” But I can tell you that not many of them are pretty and many few tell a story.

This is what happens when you give $25 to Charity Water, “Thank you Lynne,” it has my name spelled, so there’s mass personalization. You’ve just changed lives, and then it tells me the story of Helen and how Helen’s village didn’t have a well. But then years ago people donated and she got a well and it transformed her and her neighborhood. Then I give a gift instantaneously, my first impression of you is the online confirmation, the email you send me, and the screen upon which you do it. If I make a check gift, your receipt matters.

Remember that all the communication they have to have from you guys, the only one they keep is the one on the receipt. So understand they have to keep your receipt, so spend some time and effort on that, and continue that. We call this thank you journeys. So I received this wonderful thank you screen. On the thank you screen it told me about Helen. And then three months later I got this beautiful email that said, “Will the beautiful women in the world please stand up?” and continued my thank you journey. So there’s Helen again. And here’s the great thing, you guys think this looks fancy. Helen, as I slip back and forth, is in the same photo shoot facing two different ways. This does not have to be so over complicated. Does not have to be complicated.

Think about it that way. It does not have to be complicated. It has to be meaningful, it has to tell a story. But it doesn’t have to be over complicated. Then it tells me Helen’s story, it tells me the impact I’ve had on the organization and then they do go beyond, which is what we should all do, and tell me the impact of my gift. Then they tell me that here is where my gift went. So my $25 combined with other people and it went to Ethiopia to drill a well that costs $7,300 and it served 185 people. They sent me photos of people drinking clean water out of that well and then they did the ultimate, and they sent me the GPS coordinates of that well that anytime day or night, 365, I can go online and look at that well sending clean water to that village. For $25 gift.

I have given $10,000 to organizations that have never done this for me. You have to do this for your donors otherwise they will leave you.

The first is to report, to thank, and then to report impact. If I were to have given that gift not online, through a check in the mail, here is what a receipt, a good receipt would like. On the back you have this beautiful flame thank you language, so when it folds the first thing that comes out of the envelope is the words thanks you. On the other side we have great information about the story of the gift. And remember, a receipt and a thank you are two separate things. A receipt and a thank you are two separate communications. They are two separate pieces. You need to completely separate them.

Receipt is something that you get for a transaction. That doesn’t mean that it needs to have nice language, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to look beautiful. But a thank you builds a relationship, a receipt is for a transaction. A thank you builds a relationship. This is a receipt that we send. If you give to an art student, it has an art student. If you gave to physics, it has a physic student. It’s a mail merge, it’s really easy. But the only thing we include on this receipt that I find very powerful is the number of years of consecutive giving, because that’s really important. Don’t leave the back of your receipt blank. That’s the worst thing you can do, is leave the back of your receipt blank.

Let me give you an example of what the American Heart Association did on the back of their receipt. This is really cool and we can take it a step further. There’s this cute little girl and they have things that donors have made possible at the American Heart Association. Really good. What would have been even better, is if it would have told me about this little girl, because she’s on here, there’s no connection to her. Connect that photo back to the story, just like what they did with Helen at Charity Water.

Fix your receipt and your online confirmation before you do anything else. If you can’t get those two working well, that’s your first impression and people are unlikely to give you again if you can’t express gratitude in your receipt and your online confirmation.

The second, you’re going to build a first time donor program. So what do you do for your first time donors? And my friend Mary just pointed out. She said, “Seven amazing things you have made possible to be even better.” Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. So first time donor programs. Great job Mary, thank you for putting that out.

First thing, you want to send within the first 30 days of communication, letting them know that you know it’s their first gift. Be it in an email, a postcard, anything, you want to send out something to them saying, “You’ve made your first gift. Welcome into the family.” That’s within the first 30 days. I like postcards because as we know, if it comes in a number 10 envelope, most of us aren’t opening it. I like a postcard because it’s visual, it requires you to be a good editor. Then they could get a phone call either from a student or a volunteer, or someone who benefits from the money.

After the phone call then you want a handwritten note or an impact report telling them what their money did at your organization. It doesn’t have to be a report in an eight and a half by eleven folder. It can take many forms. Then after that and only after that, if you want to solicit. So you should not be soliciting your first-time donors right after they make their first gift. You need to give them time, and if you’re soliciting in a newsletter, that’s a solicitation.

If you have a donation button on your newsletter, then that’s a solicitation. If you want to separately ask them, that’s different. First time donor program, you got to have one. This is one we’ve implemented at Cook Children’s Hospital that I love that is variable dated, it tells them that’s what were able to provide the following returns. It’s really good.

If you were doing, to answer Laurie’s question, if you were doing an in honor or in memory of someone, you could say , “Their memory lives on here, and here’s how” or “We’re happy to help you honor the spirit.” It’s really easy to do. These are easy. If you need a great resource for postcards, go to PS like the initials. and you can get about 5000 postcards for $80. Everybody can afford to do this.

Here’s an impact report, a really great example of an impact report. Kalamazoo College sent this to me, I think it’s brilliant. You can Google it and find online.

Understand that it’s important that you show them the impact of their gift, but you don’t have to print something to do so. If they gave online, send the impact report to them online. The thing I love about this impact report, for those who go look it up, is it has the journey of a gift and it’s really powerful about how important those donors are to the organization.

Charity Water in December took all of their donors and did a day to feature each donor in December, and so I stole this idea and brought it to a client and we now have a Grati-Tuesday. So every Tuesday my clients features a different student or person that the organization thanking a donor via social media, either on Facebook and Twitter. So a really great way, is these don’t have to be in print, it can be digital, it can be social.

Understand, here’s my static about older donors. The older donors are just now as likely to make their gifts online as younger donors and there is the source for you. You should check out that study, it’s very powerful. It also talks about direct mail that drives to digital for older donors. Gone are the days where you say, “Older donors only give via a check.” Not true.

This is something that we did at Oklahoma State, it where students pair up and gives thank-you on social media to donors. So again, there’s lots of ways to get first-time donors involved with the organization.

I’m going to ask everybody to jog your brain. I bet all of you know the person who’s given the most amount of money to your organization, like most, the biggest donor you’ve got. Big dollar amount donor. But how many of you know the name of the donor who’s been giving the longest to your organization? How many of you know the person who’s been giving the longest to your organization?

I bet many of you don’t know that, but that person is really important. I want to meet you Eugenia, we were on a hunt for her at the University of Tennessee and Eugenia has been giving 70 years straight and never missed a year. Seventy years straight. So we featured her on the cover of our Gratitude Magazine, that’s her now, and her as an undergraduate and we told her story. We made her the hero. You need to make loyal donors the hero just as much as you make big donors your hero.

Take Hal Ripley as an example. So this is Hal, no he’s not the man on the Disney movie Up, I promise, but he sure does look like it. This is Hal Ripley and he is a Dartmouth alum class of ’29 and until his passing, Hal had given every single year since he graduated, 83 years straight. Hal is a hero. So they created a giving society in his honor for people who had given every single year since they graduate to Dartmouth. And now Hal and his 5,000 friends are all heroes to Dartmouth because they’ve given every year. It doesn’t matter the amount. It matters the loyalty. What are you doing to feature your loyal donors?

This is our Welcome Back post card. This is a postcard that we send out to donors who have lapsed. So this should be your SYBUNT donors. They lapse, they come back to the organization. We send this postcard to them. It says, so that’s the president and his wife on the front, with all of our students and we say, “Welcome back” and on the back we say, “We’re so happy you’re back,” basically, we noticed you were gone, we miss you, and we want you back. And then we gave you a link to the impact report. It’s a really great way to welcome people back into the fold based on their behavior again. Not on the amount of gifts.

Here’s another idea for loyal donors. The president of the University has a list of 220 donors that are celebrating their 20th anniversary of their first gift. It’s been 20 years, they’ve been giving straight for 20 years. He writes each and every one of them a handwritten note from the president. He told me that he finds it very rewarding, but he also told me that he didn’t realize that he was going to become a pen pal, because now he has people who thank him for his thank you note. Then he has to write them a thank you for thanking him for thanking you. He just loves the interaction, but he didn’t realize that he would become such a pen pal. Great effort you can do.

I do a lot of board training and a lot of trainings around the country, as Steven said, I’m always speaking at a conference. Right now in Ohio at a university. I always start all my board meetings with writing five handwritten thank-you notes. It is the best, all my board members start the meeting by writing five handwritten thank-you notes to donors. Who do they write to? They write to loyal donors, they write to first time donors, but they write to donors.

We have a Whitworth alum on the line. Hello Kim, you’re going to see a lot of familiar things. This is something we’re doing at Whitworth, and this postcard goes out to anyone who gave a 125% of their last gift. I work with Livestrong, that’s in Austin, Texas and they have something called 110% club, so whenever anybody goes above and beyond their donation, they recognize them. Whitworth in honor of their 125th anniversary, we recognize that and we sent them a postcard that says, “You went above and beyond 125% or more of your gift that you gave last year and as we wrap our 125th year anniversary we want to thank you for making us an inspiration to you and making it a great institution.” So I’ve got four people on the line that are Whitworth alum, that’s hilarious.

The good news, you guys are like, “This all looks like a lot of work.” Yeah, in two years we’ve raised first time donor retention 12 percentage points. That equates to a $385,000 to them. That’s a lot of money. Raising retention equals dollars. Again, it doesn’t have to be huge sweeping videos. It’s simple touches that let people know that they’re special. This is one that I received from Boston University that was fantastic. It was their year in review, and I love it because they include the total number of inches of snow they got in Boston this year, 108.6, which I was there a lot. They received a lot of snow. It was just a really clean infographic and then on the back it linked me to the impact report. Again, not spending a ton of money releasing impact reports or what used to be called annual reports. Most of us don’t do annual reports anymore, we’ve moved to impact reports. But also understanding that this is really important, but we need to get it out in a cost effective manner.

Another group that you may be overlooking is your monthly donors. For donors who give recurring gifts, monthly gifts. This is a huge population. Most of our asks now are done monthly first. What are you doing for your monthly donors? I was so impressed by Charity Water back in the day that I joined their monthly club called the Pipeline and I get the most wonderful updates from them once a quarter. I get these great emails that say, “Here’s our updates. But listen to this text. This text is what you want to do when you are talking to your monthly donors. “Your monthly giving provides us with a consistent, reliable funding stream and that’s precisely what this work demands. Consistent, reliable efforts. This is not about one-off heroics; it’s about creating conditions that empower local people to continue working each day to keep the water flowing.”

Absolutely phenomenal. I’m sure Mary and my friend Beth who are listen are applauding at this text. It makes the consistent, reliable donor the hero, not necessarily the big donor. And the text is really specific for monthly donors. Here’s the most recent update I’ve gotten from them, saying, “Because of members like you, we’re able to maintain water places in some of the most hard-to-live places on the planet.” Really great.

Last week I had the pleasure of being in Cambridge, Massachusetts at MIT, and here’s is what we’re doing for monthly donors there. They have a massive, so their first-time donor retention rate at MIT are over 78%. Why? Because they have a first-time donor program built in, and Beth McGonagle who runs their donor relations program for first time donors and annual donors, does a great job.

This is something they send to their recurring donors. Its a website. Really simple to do, and what it is, is their desktop and phone background and they change every month. So every month you can a different photo of campus of MIT to put on your desktop or on your phone to remind you that your gift to MIT every month sustains them. This is not hard to build, does not cost a lot of money, but it is really well done. You can do something like this.

How are you going to implement this? What is this going to be like? I want to leave time so that I can get to some of your questions. So if you have questions, go ahead and type them in, but I want to show you how to implement. It used to be that we used to have to build these programs all at once. So our customers, our end results weren’t happy until they got the full car. But I like to do the state board method of building. This happens in coding and programming a lot. Skateboard method build. And so what we do is we give you a skateboard and then after that we give you a scooter, and then you get a bicycle and a motorcycle and then you get the car.

And all along your impression goes up. You really have to think about what that means to your organization, is I have to start small and start somewhere that’s going to have the biggest impact. Where do you start? The first place you start is with your online giving confirmation, your receipts and your email. Then you go to first-time donors. After you built your first time donor program and you built it well, then after you build the first time donor program, you build a loyal donor program. After you build a loyal donor program, then you build an increase donor program. You see how this builds upon itself? The whole program at Whitworth is designed and built, and really, it’s done once a month, so it’s very easy to update and maintain. But you have to start somewhere and really move on from there. I’m going to start answering questions as I put up my contact information.

If you need samples, first of all, my website has over 14,000 samples from different organizations. Number two, follow me on Twitter, on LinkedIn I have a group of 4,000 professionals that talk about this stuff all day long, or you can email me directly. I can come speak to your board, I can speak to your group. We can work together on how you can build this program at a reasonable level for you.

While we are doing that, I’m going to take some questions. Michelle has one, “How do you provide experiences if you have HIPAA privacy issues?”

Okay, that’s a great question. I work a lot with organizations that have HIPAA and a lot of the time the people that we get to tell the stories, aren’t the patients themselves but their family members. Also, sometimes we can provide experiences that don’t necessarily violate HIPAA. It’s really important to do

Diana, “Do you think it’s necessary to send the than- you letter on board letter?”

I assume you meant letter head. No. The thank-you does not have to come on board letter head. As a matter of fact, the more creative your thank-yous, the better. Nobody reads the eight and a half by eleven letters anymore. The more creative you make it, the better, and short is sweet. Don’t try to overdo something.

Caroline, “I’m the youngest in my company. How do I implement this? People are always busy.”

You have to show them the ROI and we have charts of what the ROI of raising retention one point at a time is. If you show them this matters, dollars and cents people get un-busy really quickly.

Doy, “What about asking the donor to subscribe to our email list? Can you include that in a thank you note to first-time donors?”

You certainly could. As long as your email isn’t going to solicit them. Remember, you don’t want to over solicit your donors. Think about that.

Heather, “Our organization has been around for 11 years but has only been truly tracking donors for two and a half years. How can we recognize loyalty?”

You start with the loyal donors you have and you go from there, Heather. Have them tell you if they’ve been giving the whole time. Then code them, it doesn’t hurt you to do that. Great question.

Megan, “I run a phone-a-thon at my org but we haven’t done thank-you calls before.”

Oh, girl you’re missing it. We do thank-you calls all the time, every board retreat, every big cabinet meeting, everything.

“Do phone-a-thon donors like thank-you calls?”

Absolutely, and if we don’t get a hold of a donor on a thank-you call, we send voice mail. Thank-you voice mails are really worth the effort, really enjoy the time doing those and we tend to learn a lot from those thank-you phone calls. Great effort for you to do thank-you phone calls, not just once, but continuing throughout the year.

Trincia, I hope I didn’t murder your name, “How many pages would you suggest a newsletter to be?”

Ideally, it would be two scrolls on a phone screen. I’m not big on long printed stories. It should be concise, the ability should be able to be read online. Understand that most of our email is consumed on a phone, 76% of email in this country is consumed via mobile phone. You need to have the ability to be able to have it read on the phone.

Megan, “You mentioned research against giving branded freebies to donors. Can you give that research?”

Yeah, it is on my website and if you email me, I can also email you a copy of it. But it was done by Yale.

Tracy, “Many of our donors are through our 5K event fundraising page are friends and families. How do we convert them to regular donors?”

You use your families who got them in the first place to help show them the impact. So that’s a whole other type of retention but you can use the same principles.

“How do we start with a one person shop?” Great question Joan. Start simply, start with the first-time donor communication and fixing your receipt. Start with one thing and do it really well. I hope that helps.

Jessica, “What about tax information that’s normally included in an acknowledgement letter?”

Nope. Tax information is on a receipt, but an acknowledgement letter is a thank-you. Those are two different things. I can show you samples, they’re both on my website sweetie. But the tax information goes on a receipt.

“Do I think a thank-you postcard will come off as impersonal?”

I tend to like them than better than letters. Just to give you perspective, letters have to be opened, they’re just not as good as postcards. We’ve had some great postcard success.

“Which program should we start with?”

The one with the biggest amount of money tie to it. That’s usually your first time donors. The first time donors is usually the program I recommend everyone to start with. After that I recommend they start with loyal donors. So you really, really, want to think about first-time donors before you start anything else. Hope that helps you.

I’m trying to get to all these questions. I’ve got so many. And if I don’t get to your question, you can email it to me.

“Are pictures of new equipment that expand our mission worth sharing.”

Pictures of equipment and buildings, those are nice things. But donors don’t give to buildings and equipment. They give to the people that use them. So instead take pictures of the people using them. Again people give to people, people don’t give to things. You want to make sure that you do that.

“How do you do this in small staff?”

You focus on one thing and you do it really well, Jessica, and then you move on from there. Try one of these techniques. Get it done really well and move on from there. Understand that with some of our donors, simpler and better. Think about that. Really think about simpler and better.

I’m going to turn back over to Steven so he can finish off our slide. If I didn’t get to your question, please email it to me. Give me about 24 hours to turn that around. Tweet me. Join me on LinkedIn. I would love to talk to you, but thank you so much everybody and I know you’re going to get copies of these slides. Steven is going to take it from here.

Steven: Thank you Lynne, we should be saying thanks to you. This is really awesome information. I know everyone was enjoying it and we’ve got some good tweets and good comments. I know you saw some of those. Thanks for doing this, thanks for taking an hour out of your day. More than an hour really, because of all the prep time.

Hope everyone enjoyed it and please do send additional questions to Lynne, I know we didn’t have quite enough time for all of your questions. I feel like we could talk about this stuff for hours, so we do have to cut it off there.

I’m glad that you were all here for the presentation. I want to keep the conversation going. We do these webinars every Thursday. I got a good lineup coming up. We’ve got lots of free information on our website as well. Check out our next weeks webinar. We’re going to be talking about content marketing with Mike Brown and we’ve got some other interesting ones coming up a few weeks later. Lori Jacobwith is going to join us to talk about powerful stories at your fundraising events. Lot’s of other cool topics. Check out our upcoming webinars. We’d love for you to register and we would love to see you again on a Thursday sometime in the future.

I will cut it off there. I will be sending out the recording as well as the slides. Once again, later on this afternoon. So look for an email from me and I hope we will see you again on the next webinar some time. So have a great rest of your day. Have a good weekend and we’ll talk to you again really soon. Bye now.

The Art & Science of Digital Donor Retention

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.