Past Donors: Gems Hiding in Plain Sight

Past Donors: Gems Hiding in Plain Sight

January 22, 2015 by jga_admin

by Abigail Coleman

Retaining past donors is among the fundamental building blocks in a successful fundraising program. There is a high return on investment in retaining donors; it costs much more to acquire new donors than to retain existing ones. Yet, donor retention rates are a continual sticking point for many fundraising programs. Past donors are gems often hiding in plain sight. Are they on your radar?

The 2014 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and The Urban Institute shares that, in 2013, for every $100 gained, $92 was lost through gift attrition, and for every 100 donors gained, 102 donors were lost.

A donor who attended your event last year and gave their first gift is your best candidate for a future gift. So you must make sure you have a plan to reconnect—or better yet, stay connected—to them. In Put a Stop to Donor Drain, Andy Canada shares some key steps to retaining donors, which are a great starting place as you consider how to go about donor retention.

Building upon the steps Andy has outlined, following are some approaches that can be helpful to retaining donors.

1. Make a plan. Having a plan to reach past donors is a first step in ensuring your organization maximizes your opportunities for future gifts. Consider the following:

  • Identify: Review donors that have not given in the past 9-12 months. Start with these donors and work backwards chronologically in your outreach plans, paying particular attention to those who have had other meaningful engagements with your organization, such as attending an event, volunteering, or participating in a program.
  • Assign: Determine which past donors will receive direct contact from your executive director, senior staff, and development staff, and which will receive a direct mail piece or other solicitation.
  • Connect: Ensure your past donors are receiving appropriate communications from your organization—and that an annual fundraising appeal is not their only touch point. Are they on your email list? Are they connected through social media? Did they receive an invitation to your next event? Can you engage them on a committee or special project? Personally reach out to those who have a history of giving consistently but have dropped off recently. I have found these donors are flattered to receive an invitation to coffee or an update over the telephone and thus more motivated to keep giving.

2. Customize the message. When inviting a past donor to give to your organization, be sensitive to the many reasons they might have stopped giving, such as: they weren’t asked, they weren’t thanked properly, they had a change in financial circumstance, or they have new focus for their philanthropy. Look for ways to personalize your request with a personal signature from your executive director/president, hand-written note from a board/trustee member, and notation of their most recent gift amount. Tell a great story of the ways their past support has made a difference and outline what their continued support will achieve.

3. Thank, thank, thank! Always give a prompt and genuine “thank you” when a commitment is made. Here are some fresh ideas from Dan Schipp on exceptional ways to steward donors.

4. Monitor your progress. Put in place simple and manageable ways to measure your retention rates and the effectiveness of each appeal. At some point you might want to consider a development audit, which can provide a great snapshot of your entire development program—including a review of donor retention rates.

5. Tailor plans and repeat. Make adjustments to your plans and keep these plans in motion. Incorporate donor retention strategies into your ongoing development and communications plans.

For more resources on donor retention, visit this AFP donor retention page. Below please share other steps you have found helpful for retaining your past donor gems.