I just returned from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University’s 25th annual symposium, where I was on a panel with Chuck Longfield (Chief Scientist of Blackbaud), Steven Lawrence, Director of Research of the Foundation Center, Bob Ottenhoff of the Center on Disaster Philanthropy and Kevin Salwen, who wrote the Power of Half.
Chuck had some stunning observations about the grim state of donor retention. We are losing the vast majority of donors we acquire each year. The typical nonprofit will keep only one in three to one in five of their supporters next year! The data are scary, but he had four tips for turning around this disturbing trend:
1. Focus on donor retention more than donor acquisition. We tend to spend most of our time hunting for new donors, but we can have far more fundraising success by incrementally improving our ability to keep the donors we have. For example, it’s been shown that taking the time to phone supporters and thank them for their gift lifts their giving by 40 percent.
2. Focus on donor lifetime value, not one-off campaigns. This requires a commitment to relationships and to looking at your response rate over time. Gauge success by the way your supporters behave over their entire time of supporting you.
3. Focus on results, not effort. It’s not how hard you are working. It’s what happens as a result of that work.
4. Identify and invest in your most passionate supporters. Chuck said one of the most reliable indicators of who is passionate – and most likely to donate a bequest – is a donor phone call to an organization to share a change of address. A donor who goes to the trouble of doing this is saying they don’t want the nonprofit to lose track of him or her. Do we identify those people? Do we have a special plan to analyze our donors and cultivate the most committed? We should.