Monday, 28 May 2012

I’ll put you through to the Retention Department

Last week we talked about holding on. Holding on to our precious resources – our donors. Donors who do not renew their support represent wasted resource, wasted opportunity and lost income.  So how can we renew and retain donors?

Have you ever tried to cancel your phone contract? I have. Who do you get put through to if you try to cancel? The retention department. You see, phone companies know the value of me as a customer. They know that is worth their effort to have an entire department dedicated to making me stay. Even at a reduced rate, or with a new handset, it is cheaper to keep me as customer than to recruit a brand new one.

As charities we need to realise the same. It is a better use of resource to try and retain donors than to recruit a new one. Of course recruitment has an important place – but if all your donors are ‘one gift wonders’ this cannot represent a good return on investment now can it?

As fundraisers we should all be in the Retention Department for our charity.

We can’t offer the new iPhone to our supporters or free 3G, so what can we do? Here are 5 areas to look at, that could have a positive impact on those retention rates.

1 How do you ‘treat’ your lapsed donors? We talked last time in ‘Holding on’ about lapsing being an entirely internal term. Your renewal appeals should treat these people as supporters – not as new recruits. It should reference their support and the relationship they already have with you. Negating to mention this will smack of ingratitude. Ingratitude does not a loyal donor create.

2   Are you thanking your donors appropriately? I wrote in my post ‘Do your donors read the annual review’ about the stewardship communications we are sending. Are they hitting the spot? Do you donors feel they are being thanked appropriately? They should show your supporters what their gift has enabled, why you value them as a supporter and what their support could make possible in the future. Your communications should talk about the donor and their gift not the organisation and your mission.

3   Is every point of contact between your organisation and the charity a positive one? We talked last week about ensuring that every member of your organisation understands the value of your donors. Is every point of contact between you and the donor a positive and memorable one? In practice this means regularly updating your website, responding quickly and effectively to donor’s requests for information, thanking them promptly for their gifts,  and giving them opportunities to get involved in your work beyond making a donation.
4  Are you fulfilling your side of the bargain? If you asked for a gift for x – do you tell them about x in your follow up, or about y instead? If you break a promise, and do not follow through on your promise – to use the money as you have said you will – then the donor is unlikely to become a loyal patron.

There is a great example from Greenpeace where they could not fulfil their side of the bargain. In the 1990s the firm British Nuclear Fuels, which then ran several nuclear power and processing facilities for the UK government, took legal action against Greenpeace, who had been doing everything that they could to frustrate the opening of a new nuclear waste reprocessing facility at Thorp in the north of England. Though supported by public opinion, Greenpeace’s lawyers advised the campaigners that the case was unlikely to go anything other than BNFL’s way.

So Greenpeace turned to their supporters and appealed for funds to meet the costs of a court case they believed they were doomed to lose. The anticipated sum that they thought they’d have to fork out to cover legal costs was £250,000. Greenpeace donors responded generously, giving substantially more to the fighting fund than Greenpeace expected they’d be obliged by the Court to pay.

Greenpeace lost the case on a point of law, but the judge felt that they had the moral high ground so he awarded costs to the other side of just one penny. Having raised a lot of money that wasn’t needed for the purpose, Greenpeace realised they had not fulfilled their side of the bargain with all these donors.

So they did the only honourable thing and offered donors their money back. Only six took up the offer. All of the rest of the supporters saw this honest gesture, and let Greenpeace keep the money for their other work. By offering them back their donation when they couldn’t fulfil their side of the deal – they earned the trust, and no doubt future support, of these donors.
            (*thanks to Sofii for this great example from Greenpeace.)

5.  Are you investing in renewing? What is your budget allocation for renewal mailings? If your donors receive all singing all dancing recruitment packs and then the post-gift experience is an afterthought, it’s no wonder they don’t renew.

This isn’t even necessarily about spending money. A simple letter with a strong case and personal message can work fantastically well. But it must be well considered and planned into the wider strategy– not a last minute piece thrown together when numbers are down.

 So that’s all for this week. I’m constantly thinking how my organisation can improve retention - because even a percentage point improvement means a sizeable chunk of income.

 If you have any great ways or tips on how to retain donors, I’d love to hear from you. Comment below or contact me on twitter at  @brownrach 



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