In this week’s video interview, I’m joined by Roger Craver, author and editor of The Agitator to discuss retention fundraising.
Interview Highlights (Transcript)
Watch the full interview above or read the highlights below.
It’s All About Donor Attitude
AE: Today I want to talk about donor attitudes. I understand you’ve done some research and recently written a book on the subject. Can you tell us about it?
RC: Absolutely. This is something that almost no fundraiser understands or does anything about, but it maybe the salvation for most. Here’s why: What a donor has by way of attitude, good, bad, or indifferent, toward a nonprofit will influence the giving, because attitude influences behavior.
What most nonprofits don’t realize is that it is their behavior, the actions they take toward a donor, that influences that attitude. So it isn’t a matter of whether the economy is good or bad, whether there’s too much competition… that’s all external nonsense. What really matters is whether the organization is taking the right steps to influence that donor’s attitude.
The decision about whether a donor stays or goes is really in the hands of the organization, and that’s what retention fundraising is all about… how to measure attitude, how to change attitude, steps you need to take to hold onto donor and keep them from driving out the exit.
AE: Yes, it’s such an important topic. We’re always talking about retention these days in fundraising.
RC: Yeah, it’s like the clergy talking about heaven… a lot of them talk about it, but few of them are going there. Lots of fundraisers talk about retention, but don’t do much about it.
1. Say “Thank You”
AE: What are some simple steps that smaller organizations can take that will have an impact? What should organizations be doing?
RC: In the book (Retention Fundraising), there are five easy retention wins. These are five things you can do to save money, get your retention rate up, and it doesn’t take much time. So let me give you a couple of the simplest ones.
First of all, you can learn to say thank you. The majority of American nonprofits don’t bother thanking their donors, ever, let alone thanking them in a timely way or in a heartfelt way. We know from the studies we’ve done of 100’s of organizations… that if you thank your donors properly and in a heartfelt way, you’ll improve retention rates by about 15 points.
Say “Thank You” would be my first piece of advice.
AE: Be a little more specific. How should organizations say thank you.
RC: There are several ways. You can write them a short letter. Put it in the mail — not email. A handwritten note would be better, but a typed note would be fine. It should be done promptly, meaning somewhere in the first week after their gift. After that, donors either get angry because you’ve been unresponsive or they forget about it and move on. So, timing is important. And, the fact that it’s heartfelt, not a receipt.
The other simplest way is to pick up the phone and spend a minute thanking them. Because our research shows that even if they don’t answer the phone and you leave them a voicemail, the retention rates go up.
2. Ask For Donor Feedback
AE: Excellent. It’s such a simple way to have donor retention rates go up and increase loyalty. What’s another step?
RC: Another step is to ask for their feedback.
All human relationships depend on two-way conversation. Yet almost all nonprofits have a one-way feed when it comes to getting donor feedback, so put a feedback type mechanism on your website. Put a simple set of questions in your email and your acknowledgements. There’s all kinds of ways to get feedback.
At TheAgitator.net is a free widget you can install on your website and it will provide feedback in an automated way.
AE: We always say “fundraising is about relationships,” and yet so many organizations don’t understand what that means and they have this one way communication and that’s not a relationship.
RC: The things that make for a human relationship, are very well known in the social sciences. The first thing that’s required is consistency… and trust is the pedestal on which all human relationships stand.
3. Be Boring — Really!
AE: The good news is that you have research to back it up, so there’s no excuse not to be doing it anymore. What’s one more step?
RC: Be boring. One of the things that organizations do is think that they have always have to send donors a piece of mail that’s fresh… that has never been used before. “Oh, we can’t send that same year-end appeal.” I can guarantee there’s no donor sitting around waiting to see if your year-end appeal is different from last year.
AE: Good point! They don’t remember it anyway.
RC: Frequently changing things… simply contributes to the inconsistency. Be consistent in the message and look of the organization. Be boring, that’s my advice.
AE: Interesting. That’s something that doesn’t seem like common sense. It’s counterintuitive, but now that you say it, it seems so obvious. Any last words of wisdom?
RC: The best thing you can do is spend an hour and a half and read the book, Retention Fundraising. 😉