We all know we need to thank our donors, so we send a prompt automated thank-you note with their receipt or tax information. But are you really doing all you can to keep yours donors happy and engaged?

It takes more money and more staff time to acquire a new donor than to renew an existing supporter. If you're not sincerely thanking your donors, reporting back, and figuring out cost-effective ways to go the extra mile, you are ballooning your budget before a dollar has even been spent

Get your numbers

ICENI data can help you figure out your attrition/retention rates, and further break it down to which campaigns or appeals are outperforming when it comes to renewal. Even the smallest of small shops needs to know where their scarce resources are being spent. Do phone campaigns do better with your donors? Do they respond to gifts with their donation? Have none of your e-mail campaigns ever been as successful as you hoped? If you haven't yet taken a long look at your various attrition rates, not just overall attrition, you're missing an opportunity to spend where is most effective, and save on or re-vamp something you've always done that just isn't performing.


Now that you have your numbers, you can compare your best and worst performers with ICENI’s benchmarks, so you can think critically about retention rates not only among your various appeals, but as they compare to your sector or to non-profits in general. If your donors are responding well to what you've done, you're on the right track--and you can let your board know they don't need to worry. If some of your campaigns aren't living up to their potential, look at what you're doing differently than other organizations, and what they're doing differently than you. Does your acquisition letter perform well, but donors don't renew? Are your reporting back photos stellar? Do you bury the ask under a long thank-you instead of thanking separately? Is your stewardship top-notch? With benchmarking you can easily tell which areas of your program have potential and which are your stars. There's nothing like finding out your retention rates are twice the benchmark for your sector.

The Power of Projection

Change is hard; convincing others to change is harder. Get everyone on board with boosting retention by showing how it can affect the bottom line. “If we convert an additional X percent of one-time donors to long-term donors, and ICENI’s reporting shows our average donor’s five-year value is Y, then our annual revenue goes up by Z.” Demonstrate not only the value of keeping a donor but also of he investment required to make it happen, so your new programs can get sort at all levels.

Think outside the box

Now comes the challenge: focus on what you could do to boost your retention in the areas it is below benchmark. This is your opportunity to stand out from the other groups your donor supports. Doing it with limited budget and staff time and in a way that highlights your organization’s differences are vital, but the end goal is to always keep your donors coming back.

Creativity is key: is there something you're already doing that you could do differently, like changing your thank-you letters from transactional to inspiring? Do you need to separate your donor reporting letter from your next ask, so the donor feels you're not just thinking of them when you want a gift? Or could you ramp up an existing effort to steward more donors, like emailing an ecard to all your donors that used to only be offered to a certain segment? If you have more staff time than money, consider labor-heavy but highly effective initiatives like thank-you calls, or handwritten notes. Engaged senior staff and board members enlisted to help can boost the impact of these activities and expand your reach. If you have more room in your budget than staff time right now, consider a one-time test of a stewardship action with a consultant and measure the results. There are so many possibilities within your own programs and campaigns, and you can unlock them with some creativity and a tweak or two.