Nonprofits Need Donors Who Stick Around and There’s No Getting Around That

Revenue Growth // Online communities can help nonprofits engage with and build relationships with donors, both of which are needed for a solid donor retention strategy.

Elizabeth Bell
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Are you a nonprofit with a large pool of happy, connected donors, who give regularly and volunteer monthly? For any nonprofit, even if the answer to the question above is ‘yes,’ improving donor retention is probably one of your top concerns.

In the business world, people are always tossing around stats about the importance of customer retention. Here’s the reality: most companies have a higher customer retention ROI over customer acquisition. It makes sense – you’ve already worked to get their business once, so it pays off to keep them happy, keep them around, and even increase their business rather than having to convince a whole set of new customers over again.

In the nonprofit space, the idea of donor retention is just as relevant. Your donors were impressed enough with your work and valued your cause enough to give to you once, and you probably worked hard to get them to that threshold. It takes a lot of work to build up trust with your donors and makes sense to continue that relationship and prove your value to them, so they continue to support you.

One pressing reason for having a solid donor retention plan in 2018 is the fact that fewer Americans are giving, even though the amount of money given is growing, as reported by the Blackbaud Institute. Scary, right? If the chances of finding new people to donate are lower than ever, then it’s doubly important to hold on to those people who are currently giving to you.

So how can you keep donors satisfied and engaged with the important work you’re doing, in a time where there are fewer donors to go around? What’s the best approach to making your current donors your biggest fans and then keeping them?

I’ll answer these questions with a question: Have you considered an online community?

Online communities have a few key features that accelerate a nonprofit’s ability to meet donor expectations in today’s world. Online communities allow nonprofits to meet donors where they are and centralize and personalize your communications with them, all of which contributes to donor retention. Online community is part of how many businesses and associations are increasing customer engagement, loyalty, retention, and overall level of satisfaction with their organizations. Why shouldn’t that be the same for nonprofits?

Online community helps you meet your donors where they are.

A successful donor retention strategy needs to be tailored, rather than one-size-fits-all. If your communications aren’t getting to donors on a personal level, you’re going to lose them. Because they’ve got organizations knocking at their door supporting the same cause you are, who are ready to provide them a personalized experience that’s going to keep them engaged.

Tailoring your outreach means you’re reaching out in a personalized way, based on their specific interests, the ways they want to give, the ways they’ve given in the past…the list goes on. This is the overwhelming task a nonprofit is facing when trying to keep donors involved. And in an era where donors are expecting more and more from nonprofits, this isn’t something that can be ignored.

But how do you manage a process like this when you have 250, 1,000, or 10,000 donors? If you don’t have a huge staff to match, people are bound to drop off, since you’re not engaging with them. And sending a mass email once or twice a month can help with keeping them updated, but that’s not going to achieve the level of personalization donors are looking for.

Automate your efforts.

An online community platform with automation rules can help you efficiently manage this process and achieve this personal engagement. You can set up automation rules that will help you nudge members to get involved. For example, create an automation rule for a donor who hasn’t logged into your community in a month, and they’ll receive a personalized email, reminding them you exist and showing discussions about your cause actively going on in your community.

With the data you have in your online community platform, you can send highly targeted emails to members so that they’re receiving information that’s relevant to them and their interests. For example, if you want to let your younger donors know about a peer-to-peer campaign, you could segment your list so that you’re only emailing members of a certain age about the event.

Bridge the generational divide.

Donors are looking for different ways to get involved, especially by generation. Part of building a tailored approach is making sure you’re reaching out to donors of different generations appropriately.

The Blackbaud Institute’s report on charitable giving analyzes the various ways different generations prefer to give. They point out that older donors prefer to give financially, while Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, prefer to give by volunteering. Generation Z has a special emphasis on spreading the word, advocacy, and peer-to-peer fundraising. An online community helps you connect donors with the opportunities that will appeal to them. Try these suggestions to diversify your approach:

  • Appeal to older donors by providing a link to your online giving portal in your community and publish communications from your organization outlining specific areas they can give to. Make it easy for them to see everything all in one place.
  • Appeal to younger donors by using the community as a gallery to show them existing volunteering opportunities in their area and give them a way to sign up. Break down volunteering opportunities for them into manageable pieces, so that donors who want to give by volunteering aren’t turned away by making a huge time commitment.

Online community helps you build relationship with your donors.

Nonprofits need to focus on communication with donors as the heart of their fundraising. If they don’t know about what you’re doing and they don’t care about what you’re doing, they’re not going to give to you. Of course, you probably have communication channels established with your donors. But are you really getting through?

Just like consumers are now looking for experiences, not products, donors are now looking for you to provide them with an experience. They want to feel like they have a relationship with you. Building that relationship requires regular, personal engagement.

Again, regular, personal engagement generally requires a lot of time and money. But with an online community, you create a way for donors to connect with you and connect with others, and you also have a way to connect with them. Your organization can condense much of its outreach into an online community.

Donors can connect with you.

Your online community is an ideal platform for you to build trust with your donors. They want to know where their gifts are going, and they want to know you’re using their money well. Of course, they can access your financial statements, but another way to build a transparent relationship with donors is to really share with them about what’s going on. Here are a few ideas for how you can use your online community to build transparency and trust with your donor base:

  • Post frequent updates about your organization’s work and cause.
  • Share stories about what donors’ gifts accomplished.
  • Participate in discussions with donors. Be honest about challenges or problems you’re working to solve. Solicit their feedback or advice for doing this.
  • Post insider insights, behind-the-scenes footage, or spotlights of your staff to help donors get to know the people behind the organization.

Not only will this help you build trust with them, but it will also help them feel connected to your organization’s mission.

Donors can interact with other like-minded donors.

When you create an online community for your organization, you’re helping your donors connect with people who care about the same things they do.

This might not seem like an immediate benefit, but in the long run, the relationships they build in your community will help them feel connected with your organization, too, and keep them coming back.

When it comes to Millennials, this is especially important, as Millennials are peer-driven. Your online community will give them a way to see the other people who are involved in the same cause they care about. The involvement and experience that your donors gain by interacting with others will cement the relationship they have with you, too.

You can learn more about your donors.

Not only do donors get to connect with you and with others, but you get to connect with them. You’ll be able to listen to what your donors have to say about your organization, your cause, and what they say to each other. You can use this data to provide them with the types of giving opportunities they care about.

Your major gift officers will have a resource to track their donors’ interactions on your online community and get a feel for when they’re ready for that next call or visit. You can also see who might be ready to take on a leadership role or take on a committee position. This newfound source of data is just one more layer in your new approach to donor retention.

Build relationships that will last.

Donor retention is more important than ever, and an online community is a powerful tool that you can leverage to meet donors where they are and build a relationship with them. Found your fundraising on community, and you’ll be able to build long-term relationships that will pay off.

Best of all, community helps you continually learn about your donors. It’s not a one-and-done situation – by building this relationship with your donor base, you can keep learning about them, keep growing your relationship with them, and build the long-term engagement that’s at the foundation of donor retention.

Download the Community Roundtable's State of Community Management Report

Elizabeth Bell

Content Marketing Manager

Elizabeth Bell is the Content Marketing Manager at Higher Logic. She’s passionate about communities, tech, and communicating about both effectively. When she’s not writing, you’ll probably find her cooking, reading, gardening, or playing volleyball.

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