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Retaining Donors and Keeping Them Happy

Resource Center - Foundation

Shanon DoolittleWe’d like to think that as we’re providing opportunities to learn, we here at AFP are also learning. And as the lesson of the day is about gratitude, we’d like to say thank you for supporting our programs, products and services. 

AFP had a chance recently to chat with donor relations coach Shanon Doolittle about retaining donors and keeping them happy, the subject of her upcoming webinar on March 29

Q:  How was your Rebels, Renegades and Pioneers live-streaming experience?

A:  The live streaming experience was so much fun. The audience in the room had great energy, and my hope was that audience watching on their screens at home or in their office could feel that coming through too. I also felt very honored that our session was chosen by AFP for the live stream. Habits, especially good ones that make our jobs easier and more effective, are so important if you want to become a more successful fundraiser and donor care advocate.

Q:   What is a good donor retention rate?

A:  There is no standard for a “good” retention rate in our sector. At least not yet. Our sector averages a 43 percent retention rate, so anything over that might be considered “good”. I like to say that a good retention rate is one that is at least 10 percent more than your current rate, and you need to keep working on making sure that percentage rate continues to increase instead of stalling, or worse, falling.

Q:  What percentage of your time should be spent on stewardship/retention?

A: Anytime spent on stewardship is a great investment. But when you’re being measured on dollars raised and donor number metrics, it’s hard to convince your leadership that stewardship is an important use of your time. But as my good friend Rachel Muir says, “Stewardship is not a cost center. It’s a revenue center.”

For instance, if you raise $1 million annually, for every one percent increase in your retention rate, you’ll raise an additional $40,000 annually. So it’s clear that the more time you spend on taking care of your donors, the more money you’ll raise. But fundraisers need to be intentional about carving out that time. A minimum of six hours a week is a great place to start, or else stewardship activities just won’t happen.

Q:  How do you know when it’s time to let a donor go?

A: Donors leave our causes for many reasons. Sometimes it’s because they were never loyal to you in the first place, but rather to a friend who asked them to your event, or their financial situation changes, or they’ve just decided to narrow their charities of choice. However, if donors are leaving because you’re providing a poor experience, that’s on you, not them.

But you don’t know if donors are satisfied with their experience unless you ask them for feedback. That’s why surveys (formal or informal) are important. You’ll lose fewer donors if you focus on taking better care of their needs (and specifically, the needs they focus on). However, don’t beat yourself up if you’re finding not all donors come back because in our sector, that’s normal. However, do get your game face on and strategy in place if you’re losing 50-60 percent of them every year.

Q:  What’s the secret to (donor) happiness?

A: The secret to donor happiness is gratitude. It’s that simple. I like to say that our sector is built on generosity, but it grows on gratitude. Donors need to feel (notice how I didn’t lead with “know”—remember heart, not head, first in fundraising) appreciated, loved, and useful. And they won’t stick around or make additional gifts unless you tell them – through heartfelt expressions of gratitude that are tucked into stories about how they (the donor) made a difference. So gratitude, always gratitude.

To find out more about donor retention (and happiness), join us for Shanon’s webinar on March 29, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern: “Five Simple Strategies to Boost Donor Retention”. 



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