Keys to Keeping Recurring Donors

Posted: November 28, 2014

237881_tmcn2197_hiIn this season of giving thanks, remember your recurring donors. Those individuals truly are your nonprofit’s partners. Their ongoing support – even when a monthly donation is four figures, including cents – is vital.

Why the shout-out for recurring donors? Like any relationship that feels secure, recurring donors can be taken for granted. Not intentionally, of course, but it can happen, particularly in organizations where the staff is stretched thin – and let’s be honest, that’s just about every nonprofit. A loyal donor has a long track record of contributions, then – somehow – gets an impersonal fundraising letter that ignores that giving history. Or an email from a recurring donor goes unanswered or gets a form-letter reply. Those faux pas can do some heavy PR and development damage. Instead, set up systems to safeguard and support relationships with recurring donors.

Plan for Check-ins

Readers of my November dashboard know I’m an admirer of nonprofit expert Kay Sprinkel Grace. I heard her again recently at Columbia University. Much of what she had to say confirms the importance of careful attention to recurring donors. Among my favorite KSG quotes: “If you build it, they will come. If you ignore them, they will leave.” And this one, which speaks for donors: “Show me that you know me.”

Precisely. The monthly credit card charge should not be a donor’s sole assurance that an organization exists. Granted, some donors prefer much more or much less contact than others. Here’s where planning comes in. When a person commits to a recurring donation, ask about contact preference. Offer options. For example, does a donor want a monthly update on a sponsored child or animal? Naturally, only promise what you can deliver. But putting effort into that kind of communication can do double duty in developing relationships that further invest donors in your mission.

Set Up Checks and Balances

Another rule from Kay Sprinkel Grace is that everyone in an organization is part of the development team. I agree. That’s why I beat the drum for staff and board members to help articulate the case for support. It’s why I recommend donor relations as a training workshop for both staff and volunteers. But I also believe an organization needs a staff member charged with care of recurring donors. AND that person needs a backup – to guarantee donor emails get answered quickly when the inbox is overflowing, or that a message requiring an exceptionally sensitive reply receives one.

Checks and balances also help prevent a weak link in the development chain from leading to broken relationships with disappointed donors. That’s why every nonprofit needs a system for oversight. To make sure every development letter is appropriate to the specific donors being addressed. To be sure lists are clearly kept so that recurring donors are not confused with new or potential contributors. To ensure your organization really works at getting to know recurring donors – which brings us right back to priority one. Strong relationships don’t happen by chance.

Looking for guidance with donor relationships? Let’s talk.