We know we need to take better care of our donors – but why aren’t we doing it?

It’s no secret – we’re facing a serious donor retention crisis.

And this isn’t a new development, either. Fundraisers have been sounding the alarm on this for well over a decade, and despite all our efforts, retention rates haven’t budged – if anything, they’ve gotten worse.

You’ve likely already seen how dismal the numbers are – if you need a reminder, here are the results from the most recent Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, which looked at data from over 10,000 nonprofits North America:

Average overall donor retention: 46%

Average new donor retention: 23%

Average repeat donor retention: 60%

The general consensus from experts is this: if we can significantly improve our donor care, and do a better job of meaningfully thanking, engaging and reporting back to our donors, we can move the needle on donor retention, and significantly increase our fundraising revenue.

(By how much, you ask? Well, according to Dr. Adrian Sargent, a 10% increase in donor retention can increase the value of your donor database up to 200%.)

We know the value of improving our donor retention – so what’s really getting in the way of taking better care of donors?

Short-term thinking

Once upon a time, I started in a new fundraising role, and set up a meeting with one of our most generous donors.

My goal was to get to know him better, understand more about what he wanted to achieve with his philanthropy, and report back to him on the amazing impact of his last gift.

The meeting went well – we had a great conversation, and I also confirmed some big news: for the first time, he revealed that he’s included a gift to our organization in his will.

I trotted back from our meeting feeling elated, excited to have had such a successful stewardship meeting - and have the unexpected bonus news of a new bequest!

Do you know what the first words out of my boss’s mouth were when I arrived back at the office?

“How much did you ask for?”

Our bosses and leaders are under relentless pressure to get big results fast. The goals are sky high, often based on wishful thinking as opposed to a realistic budgeting process and proper revenue projections.

This kind of pressure leads to short-term thinking, which leads to training fundraisers to make bad decisions, including treating donors like ATMs, and only meeting with them when you want to ask them for another gift.

And so, the cycle of poor donor retention continues.

No systems to support donor relationships

Great donor care is emotional – it’s warm and fuzzy, it tugs at the heartstrings, and it’s full of gratitude.

But if you’re serious about taking your donor care to the next level, all that awesome lovin’ has to be underpinned by some cool and calculating systems and infrastructure development.

I’ve noticed that sometimes, people who are really gifted at caring for their donors resist the idea of methodically planning a clearly mapped out donor stewardship strategy.

It feels artificial! There’s no spontaneity! It’s not authentic!

Think of your systems as a beautiful way to support and focus all that love you feel for your donors – a methodically plotted out schedule of personalized touch points for the year will take so much off your mind, freeing you up to spend more time being your warm and still spontaneous donor-loving self.

If you truly love your donors, you won’t leave any facet of your donor care to chance.

Shiny object syndrome

Nothing does greater damage to effective fundraising and donor retention than a bad case of shiny object syndrome.

Chasing after the latest and greatest tactic, trick or trend in fundraising is so tempting – but chances are, it’s a significant distraction that’s holding you back from true fundraising success.

If I’m hard on shiny object syndrome, it’s because I can identify! I love fundraising, and am an entrepreneur at heart – I love ideas, and am so excited when I hear about something cool and new that could transform the way we work.

But I’ve also been at this long enough to see that the organizations getting real results and growth in their fundraising are those that have a laser focus on the boring old best practices that matter the most – like strategically plotting out a methodical plan that will help you keep more of your donors.

How seriously is your organization investing in donor care and retention? Have you been able to move the donor retention needle as a result of a greater focus on meaningful donor care and engagement? Leave a comment below, or drop me a line at [email protected].

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