Children’s Cancer Assocation’s Donor-Centered Retention Strategy

We were fortunate to have David Schaeffer, the Vice President of Development for Children’s Cancer Association, join us for the fourth session of the Online Fundraising
Academy! David has close to twenty years of fundraising experience, having worked in development for multiple organizations including Make A Wish Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and now, the Children’s Cancer Association. He shared his organization’s donor-centered approach to retention and how they retain 44% of their 10,000 active donors each year!

Session Recording:

Session Notes:

CCA was started in 1995 by a family whose child died of cancer. They wanted to bring the same support to other families that they received during the process. They’ve created programs of joy for seriously ill children and their families.

David joined CCA in 2008. At the time, the organization  had 5.000 active donors and 63% were new each year. Today, the organization has 10,000 active donors and 56% are new every year.

Donor retention is VERY important for their strategic planning. Their goal is to increase their donor retention to 40%.

Donor Retention:

  • Prospecting for new donors is time intensive and costly.
  • Maintaining relationships with existing donors is generally less expensive (but probably just as time consuming).
  • We know that the longer an organization gives to an organization, the more likely they are to continue to give.
  • Average donor retention rates are falling throughout the non-profit sector as a result of the recession. But those rates are starting to improve.
  • The Fundraising Effectiveness Project is an annual survey with more than 3,000 participating non-profits, representing more than 1.8 million donors. Each year, their reports help non-profits better understand the trends in the sector and benchmark their trends against other organizations in the sector.
    • Between 2006 and 2011, donor retention rates decreased by 10%
    • Overall, donor retention was 41% in 2010; that means that 59% of people did not give again!
    • Repeat donor (someone who has given multiple times before) retention was 70% in 2010
    • New donor retention (someone who gave for the first time) was only 27%
  • Using this data, CCA was able to conclude that their donor retention rates were below average and focus more energy strengthening relationships with donors so they could increase their retention rates.

What are some causes of donor attrition?

  • Some donors can no longer afford to donate (maybe because of the economy, their job situation, their stage in life, etc.)
  • They have no memory of supporting the organization. This is particularly true for individuals who participate in events or special promotions, who are often not investing in the long-term mission of the organization, instead, they’re trying to benefit from the one time opportunity.
    • David used the example of a car raffle. CCA does an annual car raffle and they’ve found that individuals that give during that raffle are often not interested in CCA. They want to win a car! So, every year, CCA reaches back out to the individuals who participated in the car raffle the previous year to ask them to participate again,
    • It’s the organization’s job to make sure that these one-time donors understand why their donation made a difference and why they should consider continuing to support the organization.
  • You’re asking them for the wrong amount. If a donor is a $10 donor and you ask them for $100, they may choose not to give. On the other hand, if you ask a $100 donor for $10, you may be missing out on an opportunity. It’s important to, when possible, segment your asks based on donors’ giving history and giving potential.
  • They feel that other causes are more deserving.
  • They  were not reminded to give again.
  • They don’t feel connected to the non-profit organization.
  • The organization didn’t tell them how their donation was used.

Ways to increase donor retention

  • Know your average gift – CCA’s average gift is $70
    • Doing analysis on your donations and your donors will help you to forecast, conduct annual planning, and make donor-related decisions.
  • 91 days lapse period; thank donors within 72 hours
    • If you do not communicate with your donor within 91 days of their gift, they will not give again.
  • Personalize and segment your communication! Make sure to address your thank you communications to the individual who gave.  Segment your communications based on how and how much the donor gave.
  • Show donors how their funds help you achieve your mission.
    • Penelope Burke’s book, Donor-Centered Fundraising is a great resource for this!

CCA Acknowledgement Standards – Major Gifts from Individuals, Foundation, and Corporations

  • CCA created donor acknowledgement standards. They thank donors within 72 hours.
  • CCA segments their individual donor thank yous based on the amount that the donor gave. Gifts of $500 – $999 receive a phone call in addition to a letter. Gifts of $1,000+ will receive a phone call and a small recognition item (chocolates, ceramic mug, or photo book)
  • Hero Award about a specific child with a chronic illness that personifies being a hero for Foundations and Corporations that give $1,000 or more. For donations of $5,000 or more, they have a framed Hero Award, and for donations of $10,000 or more, they offer a shadowbox with ceramic heart and Hero Award.
  • DO NOT include an another ask in the thank you and initial follow up communications!

Tips for writing a great thank you letter

  • Personally addressed and personally signed
  • No more than 2 short paragraphs
  • Makes specific reference to the use of funds
  • Indicates when the donor will receive an update on the program being funded
  • Includes a name, phone number, and contact information for a staff member that the donor can connect with at anytime
  • DO NOT INCLUDE ANOTHER ASK or ask the donor to complete a survey or another step.
  • Thank you notes are all about donor stewardship and building a relationship.

Create a donor stewardship move management plan 

  • Identify constituent groups at CCA that they want to develop relationships with.
    • Major donors, new donors, monthly donors, in-kind donors, GlobalGiving donors
    • Board members, Ambassador Board, past Board members, volunteers, event leaders, corporations, and foundations
  • Create a menu of touches
    • Welcome letter, stewardship stories, CEO bi-annual progress letter
    •  Valentines gift, birthday email, holiday card/email
    • Chemo Pal e-newsletter
    • Volunteers e-newsletter
    • General e-newsletter (varies by constituency)
    • Volunteer appreciation gift
    • Personal visits & hospital tours
    •  Hero Gala, Wall of Courage event, Luncheon, Open House
  • Assign specific touches to each constituent group
  • Assign dates and a responsible staff member to each touch

Check out the recording to see CCA’s donor stewardship Excel document. It may give you some ideas for creating your own donor stewardship plan!


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