A Home-Run Approach to Donor Stewarding

A Home-Run Approach to Donor Stewarding

Sophie Mac-Schram Profile

Sophie Mak-Schram was Arts Fundraising Fellow at Punchdrunk until September 2016, and has remained at the organisation as Development Assistant.

How does your organisation view your donors? We might publicly describe them as “close friends of the charity” or “generous supporters”, but are we treating them well enough?

Our prospects are people we likely approach with our nicest smiles and most considerate ears. However, when they become donors, we seem to transition into comfort zone far too quickly. We no longer email as often, if at all, and assume that they’ll stick around with the kind of dedication parents do at the side-lines of their offspring’s amateur sport competitions.

According to Bloomerang, a non-profit donor database service, less than 20% of first-time donors give again, and overall donor retention hovers around the 40% mark. The Association of Fundraising Professionals sets donor retention as slightly higher, with 46% retention reported for 2015, but still reports that for every 100 new donors, 96 were lost that same year. Although based on US data, these statistics clearly point to an ongoing challenge in the face of an ever-changing funding landscape.

In order to effectively plan programmes, deliver work and indeed build a real community of supporters who are invested in what you do, we clearly need to be thinking about where we’re dropping the ball.

IMPACTS Research chart
IMPACTS Research chart, via Know Your Own Bone

The IMPACTS Research chart of lapsed donors draws on a 98,000 person sample that puts our stewarding efforts into a rather harsh light. The top three reasons that donors who had previously given between $250 - $2,500 annually did not give again were about how the organisation communicated with them following their donation. From the basics of a prompt thank you to regular touchpoints, to keep our family of donors we’re going to need to stop taking them for granted.

Off the back of the recent #DonorLove conference in Toronto, the Ask, Listen, Surprise and Repeat report was compiled. Enjoyable in its simplicity and aesthetic design, the report proposes, as the conference did, a truly donor-centred approach.

So how might we treat our donors better? Here are some techniques for each base of the journey:

Batting, or: ease of giving

Your donor is up to bat and possibly feeling nervous. How easy is it for them to hit the ball or donate? Make sure your donation processes are clear, and that the experience is as frictionless as possible. The fewer pitches or stages they have to go through to successfully donate and make it onto first base, the better. Make your website clear, have all the information ready, ensure it’s fit for purpose.

First base, or: a ready response

Returning to the Why Did You Not Make A Donation?, a clear ensuing step is thanking them. According to Tom Ahern, first time donors who get a personal thank you within 48 hours are four times as likely to give a second gift (read more about this here). First base is the beginning of their donor journey, so make sure they like being there.

Second base, or: it’s a whole team task

By the time a new donor has hit and made it onto first base, your first donor is hanging out in midfield, halfway around the pitch. At this point, when they may feel distant, it’s key to remember that we’re playing a team sport here. Try and involve people across your organisation to participate in supporting those who support us. Make them feel known and cared about, and use a database (which again, it’s a whole team task to keep up to date) to record, track and update how your donor is doing.

Third base, or: personalise

By the time they’ve made it around to third base, they’ve been in the field for a while. That initial, personal pep talk they got before stepping up to bat or donate is a faded memory, and you need to be thinking about what will make this specific donor tick to make it to home base and back into donating mood. If you’ve done a good job on second base, your database will be a wealth of detail, which you can then use to personalise and tailor your communications. Which elements of your work are they interested in, have they been regularly attending events, might there have been a hiccup or key moment you need to be careful of? Commit random acts of gratitude, psyche them up about the great job they’ve done so far.

Home base, or: an achievement for all

A run for the team, a renewed donation – that importantly needs to be reflected on and appreciated. Remember to explain, report or demonstrate what their donation achieved, and how important they were for the team of your organisation. Having had an enjoyable run of the field, they’ll hopefully be ready to run again….

What do you think are the key steps for donor care? We’d love to hear innovative stories of where it’s working.