Let’s resolve to improve donor retention in 2017!

News | January 23, 2017

By Kathryn Dattomo, MNA, CFRE, Director of the ASGE Foundation, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Happy New Year! If you are like me, you had a lot of questions when you walked in to the office on January 3. How did we do? Did we raise more money than last year? Did we have more people donate? How many donors upgraded their annual gift? How many new donors did we add?

There is one more critical question we need to ask. How many of our previous donors did we retain in 2016?

According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, the average donor retention rate in 2015 was 46 percent and the average dollar retention rate was 48 percent.  In fact, donor retention rates have been below 50 percent for the past decade. In other words, every 100 new donors were offset by 96 donors lost through attrition.

Those are bleak statistics. We have a tremendous opportunity to do better! If you make one professional resolution this year, resolve to improve your organization’s donor retention rate in 2017.

Why focus on donor retention? Consider this: (1) it costs more money to recruit new donors than to retain recurring donors; (2) major and planned gifts are typically given by recurring donors, not first time donors; and (3) a strong donor retention rate is the mark of a robust and sustainable fundraising program.

If you don’t know what your organization’s donor retention number, it’s time to find out. Simply take the number of donors who gave to your organization in 2015, and divide that number by the number of donors from that same group who also made a donation in 2016.

Number of returning donors in year two (2016)
Number of total donors in year one (2015)

Now that you know your 2016 donor retention number, it is time to set a reasonable and achievable donor retention goal for 2017.

The key to donor retention is donor engagement. Resolve to engage with your donors at least once every month this year, beyond asking them to donate. Update your annual fundraising plan to include donor engagement and retention strategies and tactics. Here are a few simple tactics to consider:

  • Say thank you. Say thank you again. And again.
  • Publically recognize donors for their generous support.
  • Publish stories or videos to show donors the impact of their donations
  • Have staff and board members reach out to donors personally through phone calls or handwritten notes.
  • Say “Happy Birthday”.
  • Ask donors for their input. They care deeply about your organization and mission.
  • Connect with donors in-person at your office, on the road, or at your Annual Meeting.

Let’s embrace this resolution together in 2017! AFG’s LinkedIn page is a great place to start conversations with your colleagues about how to improve donor retention rates. If your organization is beating the donor retention benchmark, or you have been successful in improving your donor retention rate, consider presenting an AFG webinar or educational session to share your strategies for success!

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