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RETENTION-How to hang on to your donors: Successful donor retention strategies

June 26th, 2014 Posted in Fundraising

If you’ve talk to any fundraiser recently, you will notice that one of their biggest complaints is donor retention.

At the AFP international conference in San Antonio, Amnesty International’s Rosemary Oliver and I focused on the best solution to this problem. That being: building your monthly giving program.

With new donor renewal rates ranging from single digits for most member and event donors, and even many new online donors—to a high of 40 per cent for some direct mail programs—many fundraisers are wringing their hands with worry.

But a strong monthly giving program can give you annual renewal rates of up to about 90 per cent. In my decades of building monthly giving programs I’ve seen a lot of data, and the core factor that affects retention is the channel of acquisition. A direct mail monthly donor, or a direct mail donor who is later converted to monthly giving by phone, will be a long-time monthly donor. In fact, almost the only reason these wonderful donors drop off a program is because they pass away, develop serious health problems, or have cash problems in their retirement.

They are intensely loyal individuals.

And while those that are recruited face-to-face have the highest attrition rates amongst monthly donors, their retention is still usually better than single-gift donors. And, of course, with face-to-face acquisition you can grow a program quickly if you have enough money to invest.

Variety in your recruitment channels

One of my new clients in the US took five years (or 60 months) to acquire just 304 monthly donors. In just 40 days of building a program for them, their monthly donor base had tripled. By the end of 2015, I predict that they will have 40,000 active monthly donors. They will reach this target by investing in a variety of recruitment and conversion channels—a wise decision for them since their breakeven time will be less than a year, and it’s virtually pure profit for decades after that.

When you grow your monthly program, you need to use every channel and opportunity to convert people to monthly giving. In addition to giving you more money per year than most single-gift donors, your monthly donors will give for many more years. And they will likely give a value that is 10 times that of your average donor.

The other core factor in reducing retention of single or monthly gift donors is to make your new donors feel valued. Really, everything you do for the monthly donor you should do for your single-gift donor as well.


Once you create a robust program, it’s also important to segment your donors.

You should create a communication strategy and plan for your new monthlies, your long-term monthlies and your high-value monthlies. And, of course, a key component of your communication strategy is to reactivate lapsed monthly donors.

Ultimately, your monthly giving fundraising strategy has three components: recruitment, retention, reactivating.

This is by far the best way to keep your donors giving to you, for their entire life.

publication date: Apr 9, 2014
author/source: Harvey McKinnon
President of Harvey McKinnon Associates, an integrated fundraising company

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