So how do we plug the leaky donor bucket?
We know, actually, quite a bit about what the key drivers of donor loyalty. A good guide is here.
In brief, they encompass a donor’s beliefs and values (does the charity share them), experiences (how did they treat me) and emotions (what would happen if I stopped giving?). But what distinguishes the donors who stay from those who leave is essentially engagement.
Charities can influence all these factors but most to only a limited extent. We can’t change a donor’s beliefs or values although if we can identify them we can show how our cause relates. We can certainly treat donors better and more appropriately but we shouldn’t reduce a donor retention strategy to issues of customer service. We can play on donors’ emotions but judiciously, guilt can easily turn to anger if pushed too hard.
But what we can definitely impact is how engaged supports are with a charity. So a donor retention strategy needs to be primarily an engagement strategy.
All the evidence we have is that the best point to engage donors is as soon as possible after they are recruited. How we acquire donors has an enormous impact on their subsequent behaviour. Recruitment sets the expectations for the future relationship between donor and charity. If there’s going to be one. Giving a gift to a charity, even signing up for a regular direct debit does not create a relationship between the donor and the non profit. Not as far as the donor is concerned at least. It’s more like a first date.
It’s for the charity to turn that into a relationship. Now I’m going to hold the dating analogy as it’ll get too silly too quickly.. but you know where I’m going with this. The charity needs to do the stuff that works in relationships. And, fast.
There’s a short window to get the attention and interest of new donors. The first thing to do, as in you know with people you’re interested in, is to get them to talk about them. So rather than bombard new supporters with stuff in the “look at me” category (our magazine! our annual review), how about asking them what they’d like? Which you’ll need to do for permissions anyway. And when you do that, get them to tell you a bit about them. Just a bit, not a 20 page questionnaire. A few snippets that’ll allow you to talk to them more relevantly.
Tailor your next communication based on what they tell you. Send them something they might actually be interested in, related to what they responded to in the first place. And ask them a bit more about them.
In short, try and have a dialogue with donors. Which includes, at the right time asking them to give again and in different ways. But only once we’ve established why that makes sense to the person we are asking.
That’s challenging but not impossible to do on a large scale. Actually, we have the technology. And we see this done every day on Facebook and the thousand and one sites we use to buy stuff and do things on.
But for most charities to do this will involve a completely different approach. Walls between teams and department will need to come down. Old systems and processes will need to be redesigned. It’s not simple to do. It can, though, be done and it needs to be.
Just as the processes needs to integrated, so do the communication channels. We are going to need to get the permission of supporters to talk to them in each channel which is no bad thing. But once we have them, email, text, phone and mail have all a role here. Again, to engage not too bludgeon, to receive as well as to give information.
In the next post, I’ll look at how such a communications approach can actually be implemented.