Congratulations! You’re nearing the end of your fiscal year, and it looks like your nonprofit organization will achieve its fundraising goals.
Wonderful. The goal was challenging and the outcome at times uncertain, but you succeeded. Be sure to celebrate with your board, staff and donors alike.
But how well will you do next year? What is the number one action you nonprofit should take right now to ensure you’ll keep those donors happy and giving again?
It sounds so simple, right? Just say “thank you” – promptly and sincerely – and as often thereafter as possible.
It is simple, and yet time after time so few nonprofits do this well, or at all. Even big, well-established nonprofits fail at this most basic task.
Consider these two examples of how two, respected organizations recently lost significant donors:
- A couple – longtime subscribers and donors to a local symphony orchestra – grow increasingly dismayed with the musical selections. They decide NOT to subscribe the next year. Given the long relationship with the symphony, the wife writes a polite, but firm letter to the executive director. The letter explains that they have been subscribers nearly their entire married life (they are celebrating their 50th anniversary) and donors nearly every year as well. They regret interrupting their subscription next year, and hope they might return. What happens? Nothing. Their letter goes unanswered. There is no response from anyone within the organization. Not even a thank you for past gifts.
- An avid public radio fan sends in a check during an off-campaign cycle. Six weeks pass and there is no response. Then, during the annual on-air fund drive, this donor hears how grateful the station is for “members” and urges everyone to become a member. He writes a letter to the head of development and gets a polite response, but still no acknowledgment of the gift. Two months pass. Still no response.
Think this couple gives again when they are approached for the next campaign?
What’s the chance this donor will ever give again to the station?
What’s worse, disgruntled donors often share their frustration with friends and colleagues. No reputable nonprofit wants to be known as uncaring, or give the impression that it doesn’t need these donors.
Your first reaction might be to defend the development staff. Your own shop may not be staffed to the level needed to ensure proper documentation and acknowledgement of all the gifts you receive – and if that’s true, don’t count on reaching your goal every year.
The research is clear: once donors connect with a nonprofit, they are much more likely to donate again if they are engaged with the organization. Most first-time and returning donors will await word from the organization to see how their gift is acknowledged and how it will be used before they give again. According to the 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), 17.5% of first time donors giving $100 or less are retained; 63% of repeat donors ($100 or less) are retained. For those giving $250 or more the retention rates were 48.5% (new donor) and 76% (repeat donor).
The contrast in these rates show the immense value in retaining your donors. One of the best and easiest methods to keep donors is by showing your appreciation.
Regardless of the size of your team, there is nothing more basic, more critical than a prompt and courteous “thank you” when you get any gift.
It’s not hard. Here are a few helpful strategies:
- Have a staff member or board member phone the donor. If there’s no answer, leave a message.
- Write a hand-crafted note. So few organizations do this today. It will make you stand out.
- At the end of your fiscal year, host a “thank a thon” with all of your board members to call and thank top donors.
- Utilize social media to recognize donors as long as they have not requested anonymity.
Remember: it’s a lot easier to keep a donor than woo a new one. Your constituents – the people who are about your organization including those you serve – are depending on your saying just two simple words to those who support you: “Thank you.”