Reach Out and Retain a Donor

Continuing The Conversation: January 2014

Donor RetentionRemember that old AT&T slogan, reach out and touch someone? It’s come to mind lately as I’ve been making phone calls to donors as a board member of a Hudson Valley nonprofit. Yes, full disclosure for first-time readers: the board practices I recommend are ones I know have merit as a nonprofit strategist and from firsthand use.

My purpose is to thank donors for giving. As I’ve stated before, I’m a firm believer that thanking donors is key to retaining them. I also advocate building relationships with donors throughout the year, to avoid the November/December scramble for donations. Reaching out now to donors can achieve both goals.

Nurturing every donor

Before you say, “We already do this,” and click off, here are two important distinctions. These are not staff calls to nurture high-end donors. These are calls by board members to those other donors – the ones you still want to retain even if their giving is more modest.

Here’s a for instance: I called a donor who gave $10, to the individual’s obvious surprise and appreciation. According to expert statistics on the impact of phone acknowledgments, just a 30-second call can secure a donor for life. Multiply your many modest donors by the potential of lifetime giving – and of increasing their annual gifts. That has to be worth getting your board members on the line.

Board calls to retain donors are also highly cost effective, particularly compared with securing new donors. For the board member, it’s time spent – but that’s manageable. In one hour I had seven conversations and wrote four follow-up notes. I had many donors thank me for my work on the board.

Setting your nonprofit apart

Lest you think I’m just making the case for making nice, consider this: More than half of donors can recall something unexpected from a nonprofit in response to a donation. Yet the majority of nonprofits only call donors to ask for another gift. So make your calls to thank donors and you distinguish your nonprofit – and generate a positive impression with staying power.

Here’s more evidence of the potential value of thank-you calls: Nearly half of first-time donors report being prepared to give again but wait to see how the organization responds to their initial donation. Personal thanks are sure to trump donation pleas in prompting second gifts.

Learning from donor calls

Not to be overlooked is that conversations with multiple donors can reveal what’s effective about your fundraising or how to strengthen your case for support. They can also spotlight donors who would like to do more with your organization. That might be as a volunteer or even a future board member.

Peer-to-peer communication with all donors – not just the wealthy ones – has so many benefits that the wonder is why it’s not as standard as the annual fundraiser or end-of-year ask. Don’t wait – get on the phone in February. A thank-you has no expiration date.

Looking to increase your board members’ role in donor development? Let’s talk.