Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Modernizing Yesterday’s 8 Basics Of Donor Retention To Achieve Retention

I was recently reading a blog post where the author was commenting on another blog post about the eight basics of donor retention. The author correctly notes that the list of eight has pretty much been the same for almost 2 decades. Well, if the list has been sort of the same, and our retention rates are as dismal as they are, then it is logical that the list may no longer be relevant in its current form.

I have professionally wrestled with this list over a decade and a half ago. My team and I believed that

the items on this list were NOT capable of creating the outcomes we wanted. We wanted to dramatically increase our donor retention rates. After making significant changes in how we approached the items on this list we were able to increase donor retention well over 250%. The adjustments we made to each of these basics were as follows.

1. Listen more (traditional)

We realized we couldn't just listen more we needed to listen effectively. In order to be effective it required us to ask the right questions. What we learned over time was asking the right questions and listening to our donors response gave us the tools to be listened to when we designed a communication for them. Listening more without purpose or design was meaningless. 

2. Produce valuable content (traditional)

Over a decade we produced an incredible amount of content. The kind of content that was read at the highest percentages was content that was of personal value to the recipient. A foundation of any effective donor retention strategy requires content that is of personal value to the recipient. We learned that when you produced something for everyone it was not for anyone. Just producing content was not enough.

3. Communicate consistently (traditional)

After generating thousands and thousands of pieces of content we began to see a pattern. What emerged from analyzing our readership was individuals were uniquely consistent not globally consistent. This meant that if we were going to communicate consistently, and be effective, we needed to define what was consistent by individual donors.

4. Recognize contributions (traditional)

On the surface this seems fairly easy and something that our industry has focused a lot on over the past four or five decades. Recognition is critical, but again that looks different for individuals. Be careful in creating global recognition strategies, while they are appreciated global actions will not have the impact of a highly personalized recognition plan arrived at by asking the right questions and then listening intently to the response.

5. Show outcomes prove impact (traditional)

This seems quite logical yet in building an initiative that dramatically increased retention we learned that we needed to slightly adjust how we approached this item. What we learned was that we didn't need to demonstrate what we had accomplished in the past tense what we needed to do is design a communication strategy that validated the donors investment decision. As close to real time as we could we had our supporters part of major milestones. We celebrated our partnership and are shared impact so it was always clear that we were in this together. Designing communications as if we're partners is a critical element in shaping all conversations and communications with key donors, if your goal is improved retention.

6. Be responsive (traditional)

Our sense was being responsive was a minimal expectation. Who among us doesn't expect a timely call
returned or a gift acknowledged personally and quickly. Instead what would help us stand out in a very crowded philanthropic marketplace is anticipating their needs and being proactive in our communication. This required us to ask good questions listen to the answers and then design a proactive communication strategy that would wow our donors. Designing retention strategies with minimal expectations will rarely reap strong results.

7. Exude positivity (traditional)

Well of course it's important to be positive. What we learned was designing a ride for our donors that was wrapped in a feeling of passion for our shared belief was incredibly impactful in their desire to stay connected and create a tomorrow that we jointly believed was possible.

8. Put the donor first (traditional)

We started believing that this was true, but it turned out to really only being a half truth. Putting the donor first or being donor centered in the traditional manner will not dramatically impact retention. What we learned was what we needed to put first, and this required significant understanding of the individuals we worked with, was who the donor was looking to become. Tom Asacker, friend and author, was interviewed recently where he spoke about individuals each having their own personal narrative that is always evolving. To be effective in donor retention you need to understand the momentum of the individual narratives your donors are creating for themselves. You also have to put that evolution in the context of your mission. Understanding how those two things work together is probably the most impactful ingredient in designing a sophisticated, impactful donor retention strategy. It requires asking the right questions, understanding their life stage and effectively listening in order to create strategy.

Retention requires new thinking drawn from real experience and not traditional best practice.

1 comment:

  1. I began in the field 30 years ago and was struck by two metrics: (1) % of donors giving (alumni) stayed consistent year to year despite significant churn (donors give one year not next) and (2) donor honestly believe they give more frequently than they do. (i.e. Local PBS has 120,000 living donors but in any given year only about 40,000 give.) These troubling stats haven't changed in decades and nonprofits are unable to solve using "philosophical" or strategic approaches. The solution is technology – think Amazon and eTrade meets Giving. More to come before end of 2013. We're offering the SaaS to a few innovators/early adopter nonprofits. If you're interested....