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Business for Good

Practical Tips for Engaging and Retaining Your Donors

Mike Geiger, M.B.A., C.P.A.

President and CEO, Association of Fundraising Professionals

You have an incredible and inspiring mission, but your charity is having a difficult time keeping its donors from year to year. Does this sound familiar?

You’re not alone.

Data from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) fundraising study shows less than half of all donors (45 percent) who give to a charity one year contribute to the same charity in the next year. The trend is even worse for new donors to a charity — just 26 percent of new donors give a second time to the same organization.

The challenge for charities

Why is this happening? For most charities, the chief obstacle is the message. The donor-charity relationship has been transformed over the past couple of decades, but very few charities reflect these changes in their communications with donors.

Ten years ago, charities led the relationship. They sent a letter to donors, described the programs they were developing and indicated what they needed, and most donors simply sent a check back to the organization.

However, technology has changed the donor-charity relationship, and donors now have the power to lead. They have hundreds of different charities to choose from when deciding who to support. They can go to a charity’s website and get information about its programs or find online reviews about a charity’s work.

In addition, newer generations want to use technology more than older donors — both to give and to get more involved with the causes. They don’t want to just send a check. They are looking to see the impact a charity creates. They want to be part of the story of your organization and see how you’re working to make the world a better place.

How should charities respond?

Best practices promulgated by the fundraising community include:

  • Make donors a vital part of your story. What was your organization able to accomplish together in partnership with your donors?
  • Send out different types of communications, including updates on the impact that donor contributions and gifts have made. Not every communication should include an ask for money.
  • Thank donors. Too many charities still don’t thank donors enough, and some don’t thank donors at all. Donors give their money freely, and they should be thanked — a lot — for making the choice to contribute their money to your charity.
  • Use different methods for reaching out to donors. Some donors may still want the traditional letter, while others may want to hear from you via email, text or social media.
  • Ask your donors what they want. How do they prefer to be contacted? What do they think of what you’re doing? What could you be doing better? Use online surveys and other means and find out what your supporters are thinking.

There are lots of ways to connect donors more strongly with your mission, and that’s the basic goal of fundraising: to create strong connections — a partnership — with your donor, so they’ll be inspired to give. Treat them like a partner, and you’ll have strong and loyal supporters for years to come.

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