Inevitably, in my work with nonprofits, the subject of fundraising comes up. More recently, donor retention has been a hot topic. After reflecting on my personal fundraising experiences and listening to my dear friends in the not-for-profit world, I can’t help but be reminded of my mother’s counsel...
Growing up, my mom always had the best advice. (Still does. Thanks, mom!)
I can remember her telling me, “Mary, imagine you had a friend that only came to talk to you when she needed something. How would that make you feel? Would you like being friends with that person?�?
No one likes someone who comes around only when they need something.
Now, calm down. I’m not implying that nonprofits only talk to donors when it’s time to fundraise, but there is a lesson to learn here.
There’s some great work being done on the topic of impact reporting. A lot of emphasis is being placed on reporting outcomes to donors. Certainly, nonprofits have become pretty good at this type of communication to donors.
But is that enough? Could the impact of donor communication be improved? Is there an opportunity to talk with donors more frequently and more effectively throughout the year? And would this help increase donor retention?
Right now, typical nonprofits are talking to their donors – it’s a one-way communication. They’re providing information. Perhaps what is needed is more of a conversation – talking with donors.
In order to better engage donors, not just any conversation will do. Conversation for the sake of a conversation won’t suffice. In order to be purposeful and impactful, we need to know what is most important to donors when choosing to donate, and then we need to know if we’re meeting their expectations around these things that they really care about.
This involves listening. Asking donors what’s most important to them and how you’re performing demonstrates genuine interest. The act of listening alone improves relationships, but the insights you gain from asking the right questions can drive strategies to raise funds more effectively.
These two pieces of information, importance and performance, give you what you need to improve your communication with donors and truly engage them. This can’t help but improve donor retention.
I often hear from the non-profits I partner with, “I think I know why my donors have donated to me, but I don’t know. I’ve never asked them.�?
What if we asked them?
If we ask the right questions with the right frequency throughout the year, we can create an ongoing dialogue with our donors. This ongoing dialogue focused on importance and performance will inform effective donor retention strategies.
What my mom was telling me was that if I wanted to have lasting relationships, then I needed to demonstrate my interest and caring in meaningful ways. One of those ways is simply slowing down to have meaningful conversations and asking the right questions.