Online Fundraising Academy: Donor-Centered Retention Strategy

CCA_Brochure_6We were fortunate to have David Schaeffer, the Vice President of Development at the Children’s Cancer Association, join us for the eighth 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 is joining the Academy for the second year in a row to share his organization’s donor-centered approach to retention.

Watch the session recording here.

Session notes:

Children’s Cancer Association – A nonprofit based in Portland that provides support and joy to children with cancer and their families

Donor Retention – measure of how many donors continue to donate to your organization

  • High retention rate means you have a strong base of donors – the longer donors give, the more likely they will continue to give
  • Low retention rate means you have to keep finding new donors – difficult and expensive, not an effective use of money or time
  • This study Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) found that:
    • Between 2006 and 2011, donor retention rates decreased by about 10%
    • Overall donor retention was 39% in 2012, down from 41% in 2011
    • Repeat donor retention was 61%
    • New donor retention was only 23%
    • Attrition eating into ability to retain donors – For every 100 donors gained, organizations lost 105 donors

Some causes of donor attrition

  • They have no memory of supporting the organization – make sure they know where they’re money is going; connect back to the mission
  • The organization asked for an inappropriate amount – create gift arrays starting with your organization’s average donation amount (the amount your donors like to give)
  • They were not reminded to give again – reach out to people at least 2x year to give them a chance to give
  • They didn’t feel connected – help them understand why they give
  • The organization didn’t tell them how donations were used

Ways to increase donor retention

  • Know who donors are, metrics, donor analysis for communications
  • 91 days is the lapsed period – if you don’t reach out to donors 91 days after their initial donation, you’ll most likely lose them. Need to acknowledge them right away.
  • Personalize your communication – build one-on-one relationships
  • Show donors how their funds help you achieve your mission
  • Send thank you letters
    • Be brief, personal
    • Include a story of a beneficiary, how donor dollars are being used, and give them a chance to contact you
    • Don’t ask for another gift – donor may not see it as a sincere thank you
  • Segment your communication to donors
    • Send specific communications to certain groups of donors (making sure it’s personalized)
    • Segment by past giving, zip code, age – send emails to people it’s most relevant to
  • Create a donor stewardship moves management plan

CCA Acknowledgment Standards

Individual Gifts

  • Thank them within 48 hour
  • Online gifts receive an immediate thank you email
  • Gifts $500-$999 receive a phone call in addition to a letter
  • Gifts $1000+ will receive a phone call and recognition item (chocolates, ceramic mug, photo book, depending on how big a gift) in addition to a letter
  • All major event supporters will receive a recognition item and thank you note
  • Get new recognition items every year so donors don’t get the same gift again

Major Gifts from Foundations & Corporations

  • All gifts $1,000+ get a phone call, personalized Hero Award, and recognition item depending on the size of the gift.

Donor Stewardship Plan

Identify constituent groups to steward throughout the year

  • Individual donors – major donors, new donors, monthly donors, in-kind donors, GlobalGiving donors
  • Leadership/Volunteers – Board, Ambassador board, past Board, volunteers, event leaders
  • Corporations/Foundations

Stewardship Touches

  • Touches – not just asking for another gift, but engaging and building their relationship with donors
  • Create a menu of touches – some example touches:
  • Stewardship stories – story of a child who was served by CCA every month
  • Valentines Gift – send a Valentines card to show appreciation for donors
  • Birthday email –email donors at the beginning of their birthday month
  • Phone thank-a-thon – $1,000+ donors get calls from board leader to thank them before end of the year appeal
  • Hero Gala – fundraising dinner event
  • Assign touches to each constituent group
  • Assign dates for each touch
  • Assign staff responsible
  • Try to automate as much as possible – can automatically email birthday emails
  • CCA has 3 core staff for donor development to acknowledge 15000 gifts/year

Stewardship Plan Grid

  • Identify your touches/tools, your segmented groups of donors, and how you want to communicate and reach out to them
  • For example, donors in the President’s Club will get a Welcome Letter, Stewardship Stories, Valentine’s gift, etc. Each touch is assigned to a staff responsible and a date

Segment your donors and assign touches/interactions with them based on which segment you’re looking at. Segmenting allows you to personalize your communications and saves you from having to do everything with all of your donors.

Pay attention to your top major donors, and make sure you have a plan to reach out to them.

Regularly interact with your donors!

Q: What do you say when you call your donor?

A: “Hi I’m ____ calling from ____. I’m simply calling to thank you for your $__gift. It’s so significant to us. How did you find CCA?”  Calls are very brief. Record any notes you have from your call so you can refer to it next time.

Q: If you have one-time donors, how long do you keep them on your donor list? Do you scrub your mailing lists?

A: Don’t delete donor records from your database, but when mailing communications, only mail to donors who’ve given more recently and more frequently. It depends on what your organization can afford. Don’t spend a lot of resources on lapsed donors for over 5 years.

GlobalGiving thank you notes and project reports

  • Top fundraisers report once a month instead of once a quarter
  • Send personal thank you notes through Donation Manager – at least within 72 hours
  • GG automatically sends tax receipt and generic thank you email
  • Can filter donors in donation manger
  • Important that donors know their gift was received and how their gift was used.
  • Include how they can contact your organization and respond
  • Can save thank you templates
  • Send more appeals in project reports, not additional thank you notes

Additional Resources


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