Retaining Donors is Key to Successful Fundraising

By Kim Klein

We’ve all heard of the fundraising success of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, but even far less well known organizations have experienced a dramatic surge in giving. Those organizations working most directly for immigration rights or reproductive justice are, for the most part, doing very well. However, all organizations – and particularly those receiving an influx of new donors – must quickly figure out how to properly steward these donors so that they become long-term supporters and people engaged in the work in other ways.

We have seen huge increases in donors in other emergency situations, but most often related to natural disasters. In my lifetime, there has never been such an outpouring related to the policies of a presidential administration. Thus, we are all entering somewhat uncharted waters.

As time passes, we want two things from this outpouring of support: obviously, we want it to continue, but more important for the entire nonprofit sector, we want these new donors to stay connected and involved.

Retention of donors is critical and often overlooked, particularly when those donors have come in because of what they see in the news. Here’s what you need to do to keep your donors:

Thank them. All my clients and most of the people in my workshops claim that they are thanking their donors, yet my experience as a donor and in the experience of donors I talk to, we are not being thanked or we are being thanked in a very perfunctory fashion. I imagine that donors giving very large gifts are thanked properly, but everyone needs to be thanked properly.

Let people know what you are doing with the money you are raising. Send brief e-news updates and post information on your website. Post short updates frequently, particularly if you are working on an issue with a lot of moving parts. Social media, particularly Twitter, provide an easy way to give very brief real time updates, but your e-mail list should be used for this as well. You can give donors an option to get less frequent (every two weeks or every month) summary if they don’t want to hear from you as often but for now, communicate as frequently as things are happening.

Have a place (such as a blog) where people can comment or ask questions. You may have to post a couple of questions or comments to get that feature going, but people like to be able to interact with staff and other organizational leaders in times like this.

Ask your donors to take action besides just giving money. These actions need to be real.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of time-limited tasks to ask donors to do – attending demonstrations, signing petitions, forwarding information to friends, calling legislators, and so on, are all obvious. In the longer term, asking donors to get involved in ongoing projects or campaigns or reach out to their own networks to inform people or encourage them to get active are just a couple of ways to expand the manner in which we engage the people who support our work.

There are two things to note about the advice I am giving:

  1. It describes work you should have been doing all along. If you have been doing it, absorbing a lot more donors will not be that hard.
  2. It describes work that can benefit from the involvement and leadership of volunteers. I am amazed at the ways organizations are “staffing up” when they are also turning away offers from people to volunteer. If we are to build a movement for change, it cannot be built by paid staff alone. Volunteers can be trained to do all of the tasks described above, and even more.

Let’s make this movement moment one in which we truly engage people in helping to make the long-term changes we want. The majority of the American people will look to nonprofits for leadership in making those changes. Let’s not disappoint them.

Be sure to hear everything Kim has to say about fundraising in her Deep-Dive Workshop, “Expanding Your Fundraising in These Weird Times,” at the 2017 Conference for North Carolina's Nonprofits. Bring your staff and board so everyone will learn about retaining donors and what contributes to a nonprofit’s successful fundraising.

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