Only 39% of donors on average renewed their support for a given charity from 2011 to 2012. This, according to AFP and The Urban Institute’s 2013 Fundraising Effectiveness Report, is the sad state of donor retention.

There are a number of reasons donors stop giving.  Research by Adrian Sargeant, one of the foremost scholars on the topic of donor retention, indicates that 53% of donors who do not renew cite reasons related to poor communications.  Within the commercial sector, according to a Rockefeller Foundation study, 68% of customers leave because of indifference to the supplier and another 14% due to dissatisfaction with customer service.  Again, these can be bucketed into the poor communications category. 

Remedying Poor Communications

So let’s focus on what you can do about poor retention attributable to poor communications.  An April 2013 report from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative looked specifically at donor stewardship/engagement methods and determined some interesting correlations between the use of certain stewardship or engagement methods and the likelihood of an organization meeting its 2012 fundraising goals.

The authors summarized their findings by grouping like methods of engagement into three broad categories:

  • somewhat impersonal communication
  • personal communication, and
  • internet communication. 

Many of the methods in each category correlated strongly with the achievement of fundraising goals, and they are summarized below.

Somewhat impersonal communication to all donors or donors above a certain level:

  • Printed/typed thank you note within 2 days
  • Mailed materials such as newsletter, annual report
  • Sent e-newsletters, or e-annual reports
  • Invited donors to volunteer

Personal communication to all donors or donors above a certain level:

  • Personal, handwritten thank you note
  • Telephone thank you
  • Invitations to donor-only events
  • Donor invited to shape organization’s future
  • Donors asked to consider leadership status

Interestingly, several personal methods of communication performed better when they were reserved only for donors above a certain giving level (and not applied to the entire donor population):

  • Donor invited to shape organization’s future
  • Gift for donor (after the contribution is made)

Internet methods:

  • Organization posts online regularly
  • Organization offers free downloads, whitepapers, content

This survey provides a blueprint from which most organizations can improve their own donor retention plan.  For more ideas on effective stewardship and communications planning, download our free Stewardship Planning Guide and sample Stewardship Communications Plan.

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