Cue two big scary stats.

  • According to the 2012 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), the donor attrition rate for non profits is 59%.
  • Dr. Adrian Sargent, Professor of Fundraising at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University reports that 70% of all new donors never renew.

And you know what? Those stats don’t surprise me one bit.

Most non profits are really bad at building relationships with their donors. We treat them like ATM’s. We shake ’em down for loose change. We incentivize them with premiums instead of passion. We don’t thank them. If we do thank them, we ask them for money at the same time. The list goes on and on.

Listen – I’m guilty of doing all of these things in service to the immediate bottom line. But we must be clear on the trade-off we’re making and understand the long-term donor attrition damage that simply isn’t worth it.

Here are 6 things you can do to help keep your donors:

  1. Give them juicy glimpses into your work (e.g. don’t bore them to sleep). Most non profit videos, blog posts and newsletters — content intended to cultivate donors — is boring and self-promoting. Break out of this mold. Interview beneficiaries of your work. Go behind the scenes of an intense policy debate. Avoid jargon. Use awesome photos. Think creatively about content. It is the fuel for your donor relationships. 
  2. Say thanks. Make sure you send thank you’s and acknowledgements and make them feel like a big warm hug rather than a receipt.
  3. Call your donors. Have volunteers, staff or beneficiaries call high-value donors to thank them for their support. Some organizations have increased retention by 15% using this tactic.
  4. Communicate with them across the channels they use in a cohesive way. Does your organization have multiple-personality disorder across mail and online channels? Tighten it up.
  5. Segment based on behavioral data. Some donors are issue-based donors. Some donors are institutional donors. Some donors will only give in emergencies. Some donors like to give through holiday catalogs. Slice and dice behavioral data so you are targeting the right donors with the right appeals.
  6. Ask them what they think and act on it. Talk to your donors and then report back on how you are implementing their feedback.

The tips above take effort and time. But remember it costs far less to retain and motivate an existing donor than to attract a new one. Taking steps to reduce donor attrition is the least expensive strategy for increasing net fundraising revenue.