Strategic planning, Fundraising

From First-Time Gift to Lifelong Donor: The Art of Retention

From the moment a donor gives to your organization for the first time, the retention process begins – it’s challenging, to be sure, but is also rich with opportunities for new technology and new creative strategy alongside the most tried-and-true strategic practices. In our partnerships with nonprofit organizations across the industry, our digital strategists are thinking about the art of retention from every angle, always on the lookout for opportunities to strengthen the sense of affinity your supporters feel toward your work and the tactical approaches that can make staying involved as accessible as possible. Today, we’re sharing five insights your program can use to retain donors throughout their ongoing relationship with your mission:

1. Engage with newly-acquired supporters directly to build long-term relationships.

When welcoming new supporters into your contact lists, nonprofits vary in their approach to messaging depending on their unique audiences, the cadence of their regular email stream, and the way that a new supporter has been acquired.

Our digital strategists advise that it’s never too soon to include a donate button with your engagement messages – even direct asks within a welcome series have proven successful. Paired with quizzes, one-question surveys, or a message without a direct ask, you’re still telling your supporters a story about the work you do leading up to the appeal. For those on your list who’ve been acquired through fixed-cost sources, try curating a limited email series for them to start: Cultivation messages, sent at a slower cadence, will help build their interest and familiarity with your program. However your supporters make their way to your contact list, strong, relevant, and engaging messaging is the key to retaining their support long term.

2. The second gift: Investigate strategies to retain one-time donors.

When engaging with your audience of new donors to secure a second gift or upsell to your sustainer program, welcoming first-time donors can be all the more effective if, at the same time, you’re getting more content in front of them right away – as humans, we’re prone to forgetfulness, and it can be helpful to make your follow-up asks quickly, while a donor still has a warm feeling about your organization’s mission.

3. Try varying sustainer cadences with quarterly and annual giving.

As fundraising teams work to expand their sustainer programs, many organizations are finding success when they broaden the giving cadences offered: Donors can opt to give their gift quarterly or once per year, allowing them the chance to commit to ongoing support for the causes that matter to them, at the pace that feels most comfortable. While some organizations have long been interested in offering this kind of flexibility to their donors – but found technical obstacles standing in their way – CRMs have been making changes to the ways they process quarterly donations, suggesting that this may soon become a simpler process.

4. The 90-day mark: Tracking attrition rates for digitally-acquired donors.

The journey of retention does not end when a donor becomes a sustainer: Many digital programs have seen folks drop off after one month as if they did not intend to commit to monthly giving. For some organizations, attrition rates tend to remain high for the first 90 days of membership in sustainer programs – yet donors who are still committed beyond that window tend to stick around long term.

One organization we partner with has found that donors who sign up as sustainers through canvassing using EFT payments show low retention rates – insufficient funds in their accounts might ultimately end their donor relationship with an organization. By limiting payment methods to credit cards only and making a push to convert their EFT donors to credit card payments, this organization is working to protect their retention rates.

5. User-friendly donor portals: Retain supporters through credit card expiration.

Another common point where nonprofits struggle to retain their sustainers is when a donor’s credit card expires. When considering a strategy for this phase of retention, it can often be helpful to look at your own preferences – today, many prefer to avoid getting on the phone with a service operator and would rather manage their sustainer memberships digitally. Aware of this trend, we’re seeing many nonprofits begin to offer a self-service approach for donors to update their information online. These organizations are working to replicate the human factor that a live representative might offer within their online space. Compelling content and step-down options as alternatives to canceling can add a few additional touch points to the process when a member considers leaving a sustainer program. Ultimately, the ease of a digital self-service portal can provide more opportunity to strengthen, rather than harm, retention rates with long-term supporters.

To learn about how one organization increased retention after rapid response in Ukraine, read From Emergency Donor to Sustainer. For insights from our nonprofit leadership on how the bank crises impact nonprofit fundraising, check out 3 Strategies for Navigating Economic Uncertainty.