Posts tagged ‘donor retention’

February 1, 2017

What are the Obstacles to Improving Donor-Retention Rates?

I’m disgusted and frustrated. You should be, too.

Once again, the already horrible existing-donor and new-donor retention rates in the USA have further declined, according to the 2016 Donor Retention Report issued recently as part of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Urban Institute Fundraising Effective Project.

Among new donors, the report says:

An alarming finding in this research is that the New Donor Retention rate has been steadily declining since 2008, averaging a reduction of -3.4% year over year.”

The new-donor retention rate in 2008 was a terrible 29.35 percent. By 2015, that dropped to an even more pitiful 22.93 percent!

red-alert-by-bash-linx-via-flickr

Red Alert time for the nonprofit sector!

Among existing donors, the retention rate has dropped by an average of 1.68 percent since 2008. In 2008, the existing-donor retention rate was 67.88 percent compared to just 60.23 percent in 2015.

I’m puzzled. Since 2008, there have been books written about how to effectively retain more donors. There have also been seminars, workshops, webinars, articles, and blog posts offering superb advice on the subject. Yet, despite the wealth of available information, the numbers are steadily declining.

In the past, when I’ve been confronted by poor retention data, I’ve offered helpful tips. You can search my site for “donor retention.” However, for now, I’m too fed up to offer more tips here. I don’t even believe you need more information to retain more donors. Something else is going on, and I want to understand it. I hope you’ll help me.

It’s your turn now. Please tell me, as a comment below or via email:

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October 26, 2016

Want to Inspire More Donor Loyalty? Do What Marriott Does.

Marriott gets it. The nonprofit sector, not so much.

I’m talking about fostering loyalty.

Marriott has built the world’s largest hotel company, in part, by knowing how to cultivate a loyal customer base. By contrast, nonprofit organizations continue to hemorrhage donors, according to the 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute.

To help you more effectively cultivate donor loyalty, I’m going to give you one excellent, easy to implement idea inspired by a recent email I received from Marriott:

Show your donors gratitude.

I know. I know. You already send your donors a thank-you letter when they make a gift. As a donor, I expect that, just like I’ve come to expect a thank-you email from Marriott following each of my stays.

gratitude-cartoonBeyond that, I’m talking about surprising people with an unexpected message of gratitude.

A few days ago, I received an unanticipated email from Marriott. The subject line read: “Happy 24th Anniversary!”

I had no idea what the email was about, so I had to open it. When I did, I read:

Congratulations! Celebrate 24 Years with Marriott Rewards

Michael, we appreciate your loyalty and thank you for your membership!”

Yes, I know I’m a Marriott Rewards member. However, I did not realize that I’ve been a Marriott Rewards member for nearly a quarter-century. I enjoyed learning that. In addition, I appreciated being thanked for my overall loyalty, not simply for a recent stay.

Throughout the year, often in surprising ways, Marriott shows they appreciate my business. The fact that Marriott shows its appreciation is not the only reason the company is my preferred hotel company. There are many other factors. But, the fact that Marriott makes me feel valued is one important reason I value Marriott.

This Thanksgiving, send your donors an email, card, or letter expressing your appreciation. However, don’t simply thank them for their past support; thank them for caring about whatever your organization’s mission is. Also, thank them for their loyalty.

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June 14, 2016

Happy Days are Here Again … for Now

Charitable giving in the USA reached a record high for the second year in a row, according to the newly released Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015, a publication of Giving USA Foundation, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

While the news is good, storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. You need to hear both the good and the troubling news. I’ve tried to distill the most relevant, overarching information for you and provide you with some tips to help you be more successful moving forward. While I would normally advise against sharing lots of statistics, I nevertheless think you’ll appreciate these numbers.

Source Pie Chart_June 13 2016Researchers estimate that giving totaled $373.25 billion in 2015.

That new peak in contributions represents a record level whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. In 2015, total giving grew 4.1 percent in current dollars (4.0 percent when adjusted for inflation) over 2014.

The revised inflation-adjusted estimate for total giving in 2014 was $359.04 billion, with current-dollar growth of 7.8 percent, and an inflation-adjusted increase of 6.1 percent.

Charitable contributions from all four sources — individuals, charitable bequests, corporations, foundations — went up in 2015, with those from individuals once again leading the way in terms of total dollar amount, at $264.58 billion. This follows the historical pattern seen over more than six decades.

Giving to eight of the nine nonprofit categories studied grew with only giving to foundations declining (down 3.8 percent in current dollars, down 4.0 percent adjusted for inflation).

Giving to the category of International Affairs — $15.75 billion — grew the most (up 17.5 percent in current dollars, up 17.4 percent adjusted for inflation).

Giving to the category Arts/Culture/Humanities — $17.07 billion — grew the second most (up 7.0 percent in current dollars, up 6.8 percent adjusted for inflation).

While the numbers are terrific, the story is really about more than that. Giving USA Foundation Chair W. Keith Curtis, president of the nonprofit consulting firm The Curtis Group, says:

If you look at total giving by two-year time spans, the combined growth for 2014 and 2015 hit double digits, reaching 10.1 percent when calculated using inflation-adjusted dollars. But, these findings embody more than numbers — they also are a symbol of the American spirit. It’s heartening that people really do want to make a difference, and they’re supporting the causes that matter to them. Americans are embracing philanthropy at a higher level than ever before.”

While the 2015 giving news is certainly positive, there are four points that indicate that the good news might be short lived:

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March 5, 2016

Gallup Poll: Donors Not Feeling the Love

The most recent “Health and Well-Being Survey” conducted by Gallup provides alarming insight about the effectiveness of nonprofit donor recognition efforts.

Among those surveyed, 81 percent say they have donated money to a charity within the past year. In addition, 52 percent of survey respondents say they have volunteered their time during that same period.

Given the high-level of engagement, Gallup wanted to determine whether survey respondents were “feeling the love and received recognition for their efforts to help improve the city or area where they live.” Unfortunately, the findings are disturbing:

•  Only 15 percent of respondents agreed with the The Applause by Rachael Tomster via Flickrstatement “In the last 12 months, I have received recognition for helping to improve the city or area where I live.” This includes 5 percent who “Strongly Agreed” and 10 percent who “Agreed.”

•  Conversely, a whopping 69 percent of respondents disagreed with that same statement, including 45 percent who “Strongly Disagreed” and another 24 percent who “Disagreed.”

There are a few things that might explain the disconnect between the philanthropic/voluntary involvement of survey respondents and the recognition they received, or didn’t:

1.  Many of the respondents may have donated or volunteered for non-local causes. For example, donors may have given to alma maters in a different geographic region. Alternatively, donors may have given to or volunteered with national or international charities.

2.  Survey respondents might not think of their giving or volunteering as “[helping to] improve the city or area where they live.” For example, if one gives to a local animal shelter, she might think of it as helping the kittens and puppies but not necessarily think of it as improving the community.

3.  Survey respondents might not fully understand the definition of “recognition.” For example, some donors might think of “recognition” as being profiled in the local newspaper because of their philanthropic efforts. Other donors might think of “recognition” as being honored with a plaque at a special event. Others might think “recognition” means receiving a t-shirt. Still others might think of “recognition” as a well-written thank-you letter.

If the disconnect between giving/volunteering and recognition was small, I wouldn’t be too worried; the disconnect could be explained. However, the disconnect revealed by the survey is massive. Even allowing for a large margin of error for the reasons I’ve just outlined, I suspect we’d still see a significant #DonorLove gap.

Considering the anemic donor-retention rates throughout the nonprofit sector, I’m even more convinced that Gallup has uncovered a legitimate concern. As a statement from Gallup says:

It seems most communities and organizations are missing an opportunity to validate donation and volunteer efforts by recognizing those who offer them.”

Here are just some of the things you can do to ensure your donors and volunteers feel appreciate:

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October 22, 2015

Do You Know if Your #Fundraising is Failing?

You might think it’s a blunt, maybe even a harsh, question. It is.

Do you know if your fundraising is failing?

If your nonprofit organization is typical, I have some bad news for you. You’re fundraising effort is most likely sorely underperforming. That’s according to the newly released 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute.  Here are some of the key findings:

•  For every 100 donors gained in 2014, 103 were lost through attrition, a net loss in donors of three percent!

•  For every $100 gained in 2014, $95 was lost through gift attrition. In other words, organizations are running hard to remain essentially in place.

•  The median donor retention rate in 2014 was just 43 percent. There was no improvement over 2013’s rate despite all of the publicity and advice about the issue.

•  The median dollar retention rate increased slightly from 46 percent to 47 percent in 2014. However, the fact that the retention rate is not well above 50 percent is pathetic. Sadly, that’s been the case for nearly the past decade.

The Scream by Mark Tighe via FlickrRoger Craver, one of the Editors at The Agitator blog and author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life summed up the results perfectly with just one word: “depressing.”

Even if your charity is performing on par with the median nonprofit organization, make no mistake about it, it is failing. Unfortunately, many organizations do not even know whether or not they are performing well. They usually don’t look at or understand their numbers. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Here’s a story I told The Agitator:

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April 17, 2015

Is It Better or Worse to Send More Appeals?

Part of me is definitely a fan of conventional wisdom. Come on. What’s not to like about wisdom?

On the other hand, part of me hates the notion that we should continue doing things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. All too often, conventional is code for mediocre.

In other words, I think it’s wise to regularly challenge conventional wisdom, so long as we do so thoughtfully and preferably with good data.

So, being a good fundraising nerd, I enjoyed reading a number of articles this week that explore how often charities should send appeals to donors.

Let’s start with the conventional wisdom:

The more appeals you send, the more money you will raise.

Change in Hands by Randy Willis via FlickrAndrew Olsen, CFRE, Vice President of Client Services at the Russ Reid Agency, tested the conventional wisdom. In his blog post “Fundraising Myth Busters: Solicitation Frequency,” Olsen concludes, “Don’t be afraid to add a solicitation or two to your annual line up. As this case shows, you stand to make a lot more money for your cause if you do!”

In his post, Olsen shared testing that was done for two nonprofit organizations:

  • In the first case, the organization went from five to 10 solicitations, and year-over-year revenue increased 123 percent.
  • The second organization increased from three to six solicitations, and year-over-year revenue increased 110 percent.

Given that the highly respected Russ Reid Agency conducted the tests, I had to take notice. However, Olsen’s post raised more questions for me than it answered:

  • While gross revenue increased in both test cases, did net revenue increase significantly?
  • What impact does increasing the number of appeals have on long-term donor retention?
  • How does increasing the number of appeals impact donor Lifetime Value (LTV).
  • If revenue went up, why stop at six or even 10 appeals? Why not send an appeal out monthly, weekly, daily, hourly? When should we stop?

With these questions nagging at me, I was relieved to see that direct-response guru Roger Craver wrote a four-part series on the subject for The Agitator blog (Note: The Agitator is now a paid subscription site.).

Craver looked at solicitation frequency a bit more closely than Olsen did. For example, he reported that the net income from successive appeals goes down after a point. He also showed evidence that some donors on a file are more receptive than others to multiple appeals. While not surprising, it is nice to see the data on this and have a chance to reflect on how screening for solicitation-frequency preference can affect net revenue. Craver shows that sending fewer appeals, particularly to certain individuals, can lead to greater net income.

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February 20, 2015

Building Donor Loyalty: What’s New?

Among first-time donors to nonprofit organizations, the median rate of attrition is 77 percent! In other words, more than three-quarters of all new donors to a charity walk in the front door and promptly exit out the back door. That’s the appalling finding of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

First Time Donor RetentionOver the past few months, the issue of high nonprofit Donor Attrition rates has received increasing attention. I’ve even put a spotlight on the issue with the following posts:

As I worked on those articles, I couldn’t help but wonder: What’s new and effective that can help us build donor loyalty? Well, we’ll soon find out.

Adrian Sargeant, PhD, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, will be presenting “Building Donor Loyalty: What’s New?” at the AFP International Fundraising Conference (Baltimore, March 29-31, 2015).

Sargeant has been passionately conducting donor loyalty research for two decades. Sargeant and his colleague Elaine Jay wrote Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value.  Tom Ahern, the internationally recognized communications expert at the helm of Ahern Donor Communications, has described the text as: “Transformational.” I cited this informative book in my post: “Avoid Making Faulty Assumptions about Donor Loyalty.”

In his upcoming session at the AFP International Conference, Sargeant will demonstrate how even small improvements in loyalty, in the here and now, translate to whopping improvements in the lifetime value of a fundraising database.

Cover- Building Donor Loyalty -- click to see book at AmazonFor example, he has found that a 10-percentage point improvement in retention can lead to a 200 percent improvement in the lifetime value of the fundraising database!

Sargeant will also look at what drives loyalty, drawing on lessons from both the commercial and the voluntary sectors, including work on the big three drivers of loyalty: satisfaction, commitment and trust. He will also explore new work on loyalty that looks at the role of donor identity and the extent to which donors identify themselves in part through their support of a nonprofit.

Sargeant will show how the concept of identity interacts with the other three big drivers of loyalty and which of all these factors offers the greatest potential to the sector to bolster giving and grow long-term support.

Sargeant told me recently:

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February 17, 2015

The Greatest Idea for Retaining and Upgrading Donors

Every charity wants more money from donors. If only existing donors would write larger checks, become monthly supporters, make a major gift, and/or commit to a planned gift, there would be less pressure on the fundraising staff and the organization would be able to do more to fulfill its mission.

But, how can you raise more from your donors if they do not stick around?

Nationally, the median nonprofit organization finds that its donor retention rate is just 43 percent! Among first-time donors, the retention rate is an obscenely low 23 percent! (The stats come from the AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project.)

Donor Retention 20013-14The good news is that if you can increase your nonprofit organization’s donor retention rate by just ten percentage points, you could see an increase of up to 200 percent in donor lifetime value, according to researcher Dr. Adrian Sargeant. In other words, if you retain more donors, they will increase their giving and some will even encourage others to support your organization as well.

Unfortunately, increasing your donor retention rate won’t happen all by itself. You need to make it happen. So, what is the simplest, most effective tactic for accomplishing this?

Telephone by laerpel via FlickrDo you see that shiny box on your desk? It’s probably black with some flashing lights, and it’s plugged into the wall. It’s a telephone. Pick it up and call your donors to thank them for their support. While you’re at it, find out why they support your organization.

Yes, it really is that simple. CALL YOUR DONORS!

Multiple research studies have proven that thank-you calls are a powerful donor retention tactic. For example, Penelope Burk, in her book Donor Centered Fundraising, reports:

•  95 percent of study donors stated they would appreciate a thank-you call within a day or two of the organization receiving their donation.

•  85 percent said such a thank-you call would influence them to give again.

•  84 percent said they would definitely or probably give a larger gift.

Burk went on to report, when donors were tracked after 14 months, the group that received a thank-you call gave 42 percent more on average compared to similar donors who did not receive a thank-you call. During the renewal cycle, those who received a thank-you call were 39 percent more likely to renew their support.

Here are some tips to make your thank-you calls effective:

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January 30, 2015

Donor Retention: Time for a Change

[Publisher’s Note: From time-to-time, I will invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’d like to learn about how to be a guest blogger, click on the “Authors” tab above.]

This week, I have invited international fundraising superstar Roger M. Craver, a direct-response fundraising pioneer, Editor at The Agitator, and author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life to share his wisdom with us.

However, do we really need a book about something as fundamental as donor retention? I believe we do. And so does Ken Burnett, Managing Trustee at SOFII and author of Relationship Fundraising. Here’s what Burnett says in the Foreword to Craver’s book:

Our nonprofit sector is bleeding to death. We’re hemorrhaging donors, losing support as fast as we find it, seemingly condemned forever to pay a fortune just to stand still.

It’s time we stemmed the flow.”

While the latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project report, developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute, shows that the nonprofit sector’s donor retention rate has improved for the first time in years, the number is still wretched. The nonprofit sector’s donor retention rate now sits at a shameful 43 percent! For every 100 new and renewed donors, 102 donors are lost through attrition.

As a sector, we must stop this donor churn. It’s expensive. It prevents organizations from building long-term relationships that lead to large current donations and significant planned gifts.

Sadly, doing business as usual is not working. It’s time to change the way we do things.

Retention Fundraising by Roger CraverFortunately, the solution to the donor retention problem faced by the sector is not overly complicated or pricey. It simply requires a commitment to change. Once you’re committed to enhancing your organization’s donor retention rate, Craver’s mercifully brief and easy to read text will show you the way. Based on science and decades of practice, Craver’s book will explore what measurements are important to track, what tactics you need to adopt, and what messaging secrets you need to learn.

Noted philanthropy researcher and author Adrian Sargeant finds that “even small improvements in the level of attrition can generate significantly larger improvements in the lifetime value of the fundraising database. A 10 percent improvement in attrition can yield up to a 200 percent increase in projected value.”

By following the advice found in Craver’s book and its companion website, you will be able to improve your organization’s donor retention rate. With increased fundraising effectiveness, your organization will be far better positioned to fulfill its mission today and well into the future.

Here’s an excerpt from Retention Fundraising that further reveals the problem faced by nonprofit sector:

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November 1, 2013

6 Ways to Raise More Money without New Donors!

If you achieve your fundraising goal this year, your reward will likely be an increased goal next year. At most nonprofit organizations, the struggle to raise ever-increasing amounts of money never ends. This drives many nonprofits into a continuous donor-acquisition mode.

However, you don’t need a single new donor to raise more money.

Given that the cost to acquire a new donor is often $1, or more, for every $1 raised, finding a new donor does not even help most organizations with short-term mission fulfillment.

So, how can you raise significantly more money for mission fulfillment without acquiring new donors? Here are just six ideas:

1. Ask for More. I still receive direct mail appeals that say, “Whatever you can give will be appreciated.” Ugh! That’s not an ask. If you want people to give, and give more, you need to state your case for support. Then, you need to ask for that support in the correct way.

Many charities simply seek renewal gifts. If I gave $50, the charity will simply ask me to renew my $50 support. Sometimes, a charity will randomly ask me for an amount series (i.e.: $100, $250, or more) that has nothing to do with my previous level of support.

However, there is a better way. Try saying this:

I thank you for your gift of $50 last year that helped us achieve __________. This year, as we strive to __________, may I count on you to increase your support to $75 or $100?”

Thank the donor. Mention how the organization used her previous gift. Establish the current case for support. Ask for a modest increase linked to the amount of the previous gift. A hospital in New York state tested this approach against its traditional approach and saw a 68% increase in giving.

2. Second Gift Appeal. Just because someone has given your organization money does not mean you have to wait a year to ask for more. If you first properly thank the donor and report on how his gift has been put to use, you can then approach him for a second gift. However, you need to have a good case for going back to the well.

Growing Money by Images_of_Money via FlickrMost grassroots donors don’t think, “What’s my annual philanthropic sense of responsibility to this charity? Fine. That’s how much I’ll give.” Instead, most grassroots donors look at the charity they wish to support and then consider how much money they have left over after they pay the monthly bills. Then, they give from that reservoir of disposable income. Guess what? Next month, and every month thereafter, that reservoir usually gets replenished. So, going back to the donor for an additional gift can work, again, if you have a strong case for support. By the way, the replenishing disposable income reservoir is one reason why monthly donor programs can be effective (see below).

3. Recruit Monthly Donors. Way back in 1989, I wrote an article for Donor Developer in which I predicted that every nonprofit in America would have a monthly donor program within five years. Sadly, I was very mistaken. Even in 2013, too few charities host a monthly donor program.

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