tl;dr: feed your fire with donor retention


Over the past couple of years I’ve become a superfan of the tv show Survivor. If you don’t watch, the premise is that 20 strangers are stranded in a remote location, and each week they compete for rewards and safety from being voted out of the game at “tribal council.” The tribe is whittled down one-by-one until one “sole survivor” is left. At each tribal council, the contestants light a torch, which is snuffed if they’re the one voted off. It’s a symbolic ritual because, as the hosts says, “in this game, fire represents your life; when your fire’s gone, so are you.”

Remember that. I’ll come back to it.

Donor Retention

Last time I ended my post saying this time I’d discuss ways nonprofits can better capture missed opportunities in their database. Well, I’m only going to focus on one.

Donor retention.

There, I’ve said it three times now, and according to Rule of 7 in the advertising world, I need to say it at least four more times before it sticks, so: donor retention; donor retention; donor retention; donor retention. Stuck? In the world of the hyper speed social media, that number has grown to 14 times! I’ll spare you the others.

Good, now allow me to elaborate.

One of the biggest potential dividends for a nonprofit today is developing a strategy around donor retention, and specifically, converting one-time donors into repeat donors. A bold statement, for sure, but here’s why we believe that this is one of the biggest missed opportunities across the board.

Another rule relevant to this conversation is the 80/20 Rule, or Pareto’s Principle. Pareto’s Principle simply states that “80% of results will come from just 20% of the action.” Along those lines, it’s not uncommon to find that 80% of a nonprofit’s donorbase might be made up of one-time givers, while only 20% of it’s donations come from those one-time givers. “This ‘universal truth’ about the imbalance of inputs and outputs,” then, rings true of the minority of repeat donors who are generating most of the revenues for nonprofits.

I know what you’re thinking: “duh.” Of course your donors become more valuable the more often they give. It seems obvious, and perhaps it’s that lack of confusion that paves the way for this one simple goal to go unattended. All you have to do, is get your one time givers to give. one. more. time.

“In this game, fire represents your life…”

The biggest gap in number of gifts made per donor for almost every nonprofit is from the first to the second … by a long shot. The reason for this phenomenon is because the first gift anyone makes to a nonprofit is the result of a spark – a story, an event, a personal tie, whatever – that ignited that action.

In order to move from one to two, the organization has to feed that spark before it dies out. The kindling you use to feed the flame—immediate thank yous, donor outreach, whatever—doesn’t matter as much as you think it might.

What matters more than you think it might, is striking while the iron is hot. When someone makes a gift to your organization, you should be thinking of it as an invitation to form a relationship (remember, above all overs, they chose you!), and, much like lighting a match, there is a short window of opportunity in which you need to introduce some kindling before that spark dies out.

You’ve got 7 days to IGNITE your donors!

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, here it is: within 7 to 14 days of somebody’s first donation, you have a precious window to engage them before the fire goes out.

The building a fire analogy may wax a little poetic, but it’s a near-perfect way to think about this engagement strategy. The first gift is a spark. Once it’s lit, you have to feed it quickly (with twigs, flint, coconut husk – doesn’t matter) or else it’ll die out and you have to start over.

Slow your roll…

The flip side to this is, if your throw a log on a fledgling fire, you’re liable to snuff it yourself, so making an ask too early can potentially be just as damaging as waiting too long. Your Supporter Engagement Platform™ will (or should if you still have a donor database management system) provide guidance on how best to monitor and stoke your flame (have I mentioned that we recently built a new “Act” feature that does the work for you? Ask Megan about it!).

Once it’s burning on its own, you have the opportunity to step back, throw in a log every so often, but as every Survivor knows, the hardest part is getting it going to begin with. With that in mind, we implore you to consider focusing on closing that gap between first and second gifts—on feeding your one-time donors something (anything!) to keep their fire alive, because in this game, fire represents your life; when you’re fire’s gone, so are you.

Before you go!
It’s important to note that this strategy completely changes for monthly/recurring giving strategies. While a one-off donation cultivation strategy looks a lot like feeding a fire, a recurring giving strategy looks more like filling a well. But we’ll save that simile for Part 3.

Singing off,
CSO and board certified data doctor

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