As a young and naïve fundraiser, I spent a good portion of my day obsessing over messaging. If I could just craft the perfect appeal/post/article, well, then, the gifts would just come rolling in the door! Right?!
Well, mostly wrong. Sure, a gorgeous appeal that tugs at the heartstrings, will generate gifts. But you won't keep those donors - and possibly upgrade them - if that appeal isn't positioned as the start of a conversation. If your strategy is to craft a series of messages to push out to donors, just pack-up and go home now. You shouldn't be "pushing" anything to donors. You should be having a conversation with your donors.
Full disclosure, I drank the kool-aid when it comes to retention fundraising. If you don't know what I mean, then read Roger M. Craver's great book, Retention Fundraising. (It's a quick read, do it, do it now! I'll wait.)
And if you aren't sure focusing on retention is important, check out the great statistics from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. We, as a fundraisers, lose almost as much money through donor attrition, as we gain from new donors. Industry-wide, we manage to retain just 46% of our donors year-to-year. Ugh. That is a hideous statistic.
The bright spot is that $500+ donors seem to have a better retention rate. I hazard to guess that's because those giving at that level become high touch donors. They fall into the magical pool of potential major donors, and they get a little extra attention. Someone starts talking with them.
So, how can we apply that little bit of insight to the rest of your donors?
I don't have all the answers. What I do have is some experience. I've maintained fundraising programs that hum along at a 70%+ donor retention rate. To do this, I worked really hard at shifting our approach from messaging to conversing - with all donors. Here is how you can do that, too:
1. Once a year, call your donors to say thank you and ask if they have any questions for you.
2. Create a donor survey that is shared everywhere (website, blog, gift confirmation emails, thank you letters) which asks donors how you are doing on key things like communicating where their gift goes and the ease of donating.
3. Send hand-signed Thanksgiving cards, expressing your appreciation for making your work possible.
4. Ask your donors their preference on when and how often they receive appeals, and then track that preference and uphold it.
5. Send small postcards with program photos on the front, and statistics on the back, throughout the year - no ask included, but contact information is clearly printed. Its a cheap but efficient way to share milestones with your donors, and keep them feeling connected.