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Joanne Fritz

Donor Retention Strategies for Your Leaky Bucket

By January 29, 2013

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A leaky bucket.

Chuck Longfield is on a donor retention crusade.

Longfield is the data scientist at Blackbaud, a vendor of some the most recognizable databases for nonprofits. He knows data and donors, and what makes them tick.

In a two-part interview with SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration), Longfield made clear that the nonprofit sector is in crisis, with donor retention reaching new lows. Part of the problem is that nonprofits spend too much time on acquisition, rounding up many new donors. Unfortunately, new donors are notoriously fickle. Most of them will not stay put.

Longfield says that nonprofits need to refocus on retention and invest more in it. Here are some strategies that might help. They all involve mining your database.

  • Acquire donors who are the most likely to stay. Judge your mailing lists based on retention rather than the usual response rate, cost of acquisition, and average gift value. Instead, look at retention past the first year. Longfield says that not all donors are the same. Using your data, you can figure out the characteristics of those who tend to stick around and then focus on them.

  • Invest in retention strategies for the long term. Nonprofits tend to focus on the right now and are often reluctant to invest this year's budget in actions that might not pay off for some time. We already know many of the things that result in retention, but they are long term strategies that may not show immediate results.

  • Figure out why donors don't come back after their first gift. Again, the information is in our files. Did they die? Move away? Lose their jobs? Forget? Feel neglected? It's impossible to bring donors back unless we know why they left in the first place.

  • Get help if you need it. Nonprofit fundraisers are overwhelmed, just doing the everyday tasks of their jobs. Delegate some of it or hire outside help, so you can focus on analyzing your metrics and implementing the things we know will help retention.

  • Become donor centered. That simply means:
    • be personal, nice, quick, sincere
    • be available, open and accountable
    • tell good stories and give good feedback
    • make interactions win/win for both donor and your cause

These are just a few of Longfield's ideas. Do your organization a favor and read all of them here and here. You'll be inspired for your 2013 fundraising.

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Photo: Getty Images

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February 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm
(1) Kiki Swanson says:

Thank you for such down-to-earth good advice! I’ve been developing funds since 1975, and the basics are still the basics! Bless you and your newsletter. I now am President of the Valley Presbyterian Foundation, so I am still at it!

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