Save Your Donors

The astonishingly high loss rate of donors is one of the most perplexing challenges faced by nonprofits.

The loss of givers—people who have already cared enough to give—is difficult to comprehend, and it is a hard truth. Repeated research confirms that the social sector continues to lose more contributors than it adds during annual fundraising cycles.

This financial imbalance is not sustainable.

Of course the issue of donor retention is certainly not new and there is plenty of discussion addressing the topic. Furthermore, there’s no shortage of excellent advice like that from fundraising experts Simone Joyaux, Tom Ahern, Gail Perry, Marc Pittman, and many others. And plenty of good resources are available through organizations like the Association for Fundraising Professionals.

Awareness of the problem exists, the consequences for not resolving it are obviously grave, and ample assistance is easily obtainable—yet it persists.

What’s missing here?

Is it possible nonprofits have grown accustomed to poor donor retention rates? Or is the situation just too overwhelming?

Behavior experts and brothers Chip and Dan Heath write in their book Switch, How to Change Things When Change Is Hard that a problem can be seen as so difficult that a workable solution is thought to be too challenging to achieve. They advocate taking corrective action in small, incremental steps so it is identified as doable.

I believe in this approach for producing positive results. I also offer another suggestion for reducing poor donor retention.

Consider creative problem solving as an alternative to traditional thinking; practices successful in the for-profit world. The business sector has many strategies for successfully producing high levels of customer satisfaction that translate into extraordinary customer retention numbers.

Lessons from for-profit practices that produce consistently exceptional repeat business can also benefit nonprofits.

To provide insight on how those results are achieved, I reached out to two speaker colleagues who are recognized customer service pros. Ruby Newell-Legner works worldwide with professional sports teams, major hospitality venues, and international events such as the Olympics and Super Bowls. Her techniques for developing 7 Star Service can reverse negative donor retention.

Donna Cutting, author of The Celebrity Experience and 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers, also has a wealth of customer service information that will help nonprofits retain their donors.

I am sharing Ruby’s tips in this newsletter, and I’ll expand the conversation in a follow-up article featuring Donna’s Red Carpet advice.

Ruby advocates revolutionizing the fan experience to enhance customer loyalty and retention.

Can you see how incorporating that philosophy would translate into reversing donor loss? Wouldn’t it be transformational if you could elevate individual donors to actual fans of your organization?

“Your revenue and bottom line will grow when you inspire fan loyalty,” Ruby says. “Furthermore, research proves fans who have a better experience come back for more.”

Ruby’s approach focuses on an organization’s leadership for setting an example of exceptional customer service. “Leaders demonstrating and reinforcing expected behavior sets the stage for inspiring all other employees to adopt customer interaction practices that create a compelling experience.”

Educating and training your entire staff on the importance of executing exceptional donor service will produce a cultural change that converts contributors to fans who will as a consequence remain loyal to your cause.

These 7 Star Service actions from Ruby Newell-Legner will build a platform for improving your donor retention.

  1. Engage donors by turning transactions into experiences.
  2. Encourage donor loyalty by rewarding it.
  3. Discover the truth about what motivated your donors.
  4. Attract and retain quality employees by enhancing your workplace culture.
  5. Earn a greater return on investment in employee recruitment and training.
  6. Develop leaders with a service mindset to deliver more consistent service.
  7. Break down barriers between departments, staff, volunteers, and contracted partner.

Treat donors like customers you want to keep. Apply Ruby Newell-Legner’s customer service tips and you’ll retain more of those donors you’ve worked so hard to attract. If you would like to learn more about Ruby, visit her website www.7StarService.com.

What donor retention strategies work for you? I know others in our community would welcome hearing your thoughts.

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