Early in my career, the first time I had the opportunity to interview candidates to hire a team member—a development coordinator, expanding my team—I was incredibly excited. The first candidate came to visit and talked about how her organization had figured out 7 ways to thank each of their donors. The second candidate talked about how many times they thanked their donors. The third candidate proudly reported about how they thanked all their donors 7 times.
Part of our responsibility to our donors after receiving a gift is to report back to them about what the donations they’ve entrusted to us have accomplished. We know they want to hear from us about the impact of their donations.
If we’re good at donor stewardship, we do this in multiple ways and in an ongoing fashion.
- We call our donors and say things like, “Hi! The tractors arrived on site today and started clearing for the new building and I was just thinking about you and how you’ve made this possible.”
- We invite them to our campuses and show them work in progress or programs in action.
- We meet them for coffee and bring them pictures of something that happened last week that they wanted to see.
Informally, the updates are regular.
But every once in a while, we do formal updates through Annual or Impact Reports as well. As many of us plan this time of year to write and design our Annual or Impact Report, what should it convey?
What if you could do one thing in your development program and increase your donations 600 – 800%?!!
You can! According to Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang in a whitepaper produced by Blackbaud and Hartsook Institutes, Growing Philanthropy in the United States, 600-800% is the amount by which you can increase a donor’s lifetime value simply by converting him or her to a monthly giver.
Consider: if you’re typical donor makes a $25 or $35 check at the end of the year, you can increase his or her giving dramatically by signing them up to give $5, $10, or $15 each month instead. A monthly contributor who gives $5/month, for example, has increased their contribution 240% in one year. Now, multiply that by the number of years he or she will give.
The math is pretty simple and straight-forward so the real question is how do you get started?
The answer isn’t rocket science: Ask.
For the last several years, the idea of donor retention has been much discussed. Thought leaders like Adrian Sargeant, Penelope Burk, Jay Love and so many others including those associated with the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, have urged us to improve our stewardship practices telling us that donor attrition will rates will never improve if we don’t continue to improve our stewardship practices. As a result, we’ve all worked harder to acknowledge gifts in a more timely fashion, more sincerely, and more creatively with mixed results. We’ve also worked to be more creative and faithful about reporting back to our donors about the impact of their gifts, again, with mixed results. Reports on our practices continue to find uneven practices with some of us acknowledging gifts swiftly, others slowly, and still others, not at all.
In the years that we have spent talking about donor stewardship and its importance for donor retention, little seems to have changed. In fact, if anything, donor retention rates have continued their downward spiral and the problem has gotten worse.
Why has it been so difficult to make head-way on this problem? Why has it been so hard to turn the ship around on these issues?