Beyond the Thank You Email | Small Donor Retention Strategies

Vanessa Chase Lockshin
May 21, 2019

Beyond the Thank You Email

If your organization is like most, your donor retention numbers might be less than stellar. In fact, according to the 2019 M+R Benchmarks Study only 37% of donors who made a gift online in 2017 donated online again to that nonprofit in 2018. This was a 3% decrease from the previous year. It’s worth considering how much fundraising revenue your organization may be losing because of low donor retention. For some it’s thousands of dollars.

So what can your organization do to fix this problem?

We can start by thinking about what we can do to step up our donor stewardship efforts. For instance, what happens after a donor makes a gift? Do they get an automated thank you email or maybe get redirected to a thank you page with a share button? Fixing donor retention starts with mapping out your thank you process to understand what’s working and what’s not. After all, your donors voluntarily gave you their contact information - they want you to get in touch! Whether that means getting in touch just once, or adding your donors to a more comprehensive email schedule, there are many ways to convey your gratitude (and improve your donor retention).

In addition to improving your thank you process, here are three other strategies to consider for retaining small dollar donors.

Establish communication on non-email channels

Many digital - first groups rely heavily on email. But when it comes to donor retention, email has its downsides. For instance, one of my clients had low donor retention and as we dug into the data to figure out why this was, we found that nearly 60% of lapsed donors lapsed because they unsubscribed or got marked as “inactive” in the CRM. Because the organization wasn’t aware that this was even an issue, they were losing contact with thousands of donors each year. Since then, they’ve found ways to address this issue within their email CRM and they actively look for ways to establish direct communication with donors on non-email channels.

In the process of thanking a donor for a recent gift, your organization has the opportunity to establish contact on other channels such as social media or SMS. If your organization has a strategy for activist or donor outreach on these channels, it should be relatively easy to add in a tactic for thanking them on these channels.

If capacity is an issue for your organization, doing stewardship outreach to donors on other channels can be an easy way for volunteers and board members to support your fundraising efforts. You can organize a phone bank night when everyone comes into make thank you phone calls to recent donors or you could also try something similar with text banking to thank donors.

Understand what your donors want

Another strategy for improving donor retention is to understand what your donors want and use that to drive your fundraising and stewardship strategies. Some organizations opt to use donor surveys to gather this information, while others will look at donor behavioral data. Both are good options for insight that can inform your strategy.

If you look at donor behavioral data, here are some questions to consider.

  1. Are you seeing a drop offs in retention at specific points in time?
  2. Is retention impacted by list churn? If so, what can be tested to keep donors engaged and active on your email list?
  3. Where are you seeing lifts in giving that indicate a particular ask resonated more with donors? Spend time to unpack why certain campaigns were more successful than others.
  4. Is there a time of year when you see donors renewing their giving? If so, what can you do to double down on strategy at that time?

Find the holes in your fundraising bucket

As I often tell my clients, we need to identify the real obstacles to success and understand those obstacles as milestones along the way to reach our goals. Increasing fundraising revenue or growing a donor base is a perfect example of this. If there are fundamental obstacles that have prevented us from reaching these goals in the past, we need to prioritize these obstacles as projects that will help us reach our goal. This is exactly why I suggest identifying the holes in your fundraising bucket.

No doubt about it, donor retention can be a big problem to tackle. But rather than generalizing it, you can find those the holes and specifically address them. For example, digging into the details of donor retention allows you to see if there are specific segments where donor retention is worse (or better in some cases). Without genuinely addressing these issues, other strategies and tactics could be a moot point.

With growing numbers of small dollar donors, now is the best time to get a solid donor retention strategy in place. Not only will this help you retentain small dollar donors to build a loyal donor community, it helps you cultivate relationships that could lead to a major gift or even a legacy gift.

Vanessa Chase Lockshin is President of The Storytelling Nonprofit. Her goal is to help nonprofits connect in more meaningful ways with donors through communications and stewardship that result in improved donor retention. She works with nonprofits throughout North America—including Win Without War, OpenMedia, Barnard College, Meals on Wheels Association of America —and is an internationally recognized speaker and author. You can find more of her fundraising and communications advice on her YouTube channel.

Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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