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No Money for Donor Acquisition? Focus on Retention

There's More Worth in Your Current Donor List than You Think


Hands nurturing plant.
Matt Olson/Getty Images

At a FundRaising Success conference, Roger Craver reminded attendees of the importance of donor retention. Craver is the founder of DonorTrends and chief blogger at The Agitator.

In his keynote address at the conference, Craver said that, during these difficult times, we should focus our resources on our organization's "missionaries," "loyalists," and "lapsed donors."

Missionaries are those folks who believe fervently in our cause, donate frequently, volunteer eagerly, and who enthusiastically share their passion with others. Craver pointed out that:

  • 84% of all donors prefer to be solicited by folks they know.
  • 20% of the typical donor database are missionaries who will communicate with others about your cause.
  • missionaries can be recognized by their deeds. They are the ones who consistently do things for our organizations. Don't forget that volunteers typically give twice as much to their causes as non-volunteers.

We need to be just as passionate at identifying the missionaries on our lists as they are about promoting our cause. Design a recruiting plan to enlist them in focused efforts, and provide them with the tools to help spread the word and draw more donors from their spheres of influence. Social media tools can be deployed with missionaries particularly effectively. Your young missionaries will be especially adept with social media networks, and a surprising number of the older ones may well be using such tools as well. Direct those energies by providing the messages they can pass on.

Loyalists are those donors who have consistently given to your organization for a considerable amount of time.

  • loyalists can be from any demographic.
  • loyalists give up to four times more than an average donor.
  • loyalists tend to self-identify by simply being more visible than other supporters.
  • loyalists typically represent 20% of donor databases.

How do you reward loyalists? Not by fancy events or bronze plaques. Just thank them sincerely and frequently. Let them know just how their gift made a difference. Craver suggests thanking loyalists for their years of support by sending them "birthday cards" that celebrate their donor anniversaries.

Lapsed donors are much more valuable than new donors--up to twice as valuable in fact. And it is far less costly to restart lapsed donors than to acquire new ones.

Craver says to mine your lapsed and long-lapsed donors by sending new messages, creating new offers, and simply letting them know that they are missed. Write to them and say "We've missed you. Your gift of [specific amount of money], helped us to [concrete example]." It can be amazing how powerful it can be to simply let lapsed donors know that you are aware of them and miss them. Imagine how you would feel if you went missing from your circle of friends and nobody ever called to find out if you are ok and when will you be back?

Craver reminded us in his presentation that in a philanthropic world where,

  • acquisition rates are declining
  • acquisition costs are rising
  • retention rates are declining, and
  • income is declining

We must

  • Focus on retention, and
  • Fix the leaky bucket before pouring more new water into it.
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