3 Donor Retention Strategies—Compliments of Molly Ringwald, Jessie J and Bruno Mars

This article is a bonus article for our Nonprofit Hub Magazine, a free bi-monthly magazine dedicated to providing focused content on a particular topic.

In our January/February 2015 edition, we explored how to keep donors around all year. To reserve your free copy of our next issue, sign up today


A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to chat with Paul Strawhecker, an insightful nonprofit titan who has worked in the nonprofit sector for his entire career. His experiences range from fundraising and marketing to PR and grant writing (to name a few), so we thought he’d make an excellent interviewee for a follow-up story for our latest Nonprofit Hub Magazine issue focusing on donor retention.

Since your kids are freshly back in school from the holiday break, teachers are struggling to keep their attention after a long recess of sleeping ‘til 10 and watching cartoons until noon. And since you’re likely still getting into your 2015 work groove, I’ll keep things interesting using famous song lyrics.

Pay close attention—here are the key takeaways I got out of my phone call with Paul Strawhecker.

In the words of the famous final track of The Breakfast Club:

Don’t You Forget About Me

Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t

Don’t You Forget About Me

(Or if you’ve missed out on one of the greatest films of all time—according to most accounts—but remember the significance from Pitch Perfect, shame on you, but use that reference.)

According to Strawhecker, the biggest mistake that nonprofits make after receiving their first gift from a donor is not acknowledging the gift. I can sense many of you saying this as you read: “well, we do thank them, it just takes a while.” He noted, most often it gets done, but not in a timely manner. “Giving is emotional and a timely acknowledgement builds on the positive emotion a donor feels when they make a gift”, states Strawhecker. Wait too long, and you will have missed that chance altogether.

Lesson number two stems from a more recent artist by the name of Jessie J and her radio hit “Price Tag.” The chorus goes like this:

It’s not about the money, money, money

We don’t need your money, money, money

We just wanna make the world dance…

Now, these lyrics aren’t exactly true. Because as a nonprofit, you do want their money, but you can’t build a relationship based solely on the ask. I questioned Strawhecker on how nonprofits could best go about building relationships with donors without it seeming like all we want is access to their wallets. He suggests, “looking into a donor’s particular interest, and looking for specific programs within your nonprofit which speak to those interests”. Segmentation is huge here. Don’t treat all of your donors the same—they have passions that fit within sectors of your nonprofit and it’s important to research their gifts and look for patterns.

For our final lesson, let’s focus on this month (January) and on into February and March. When the holiday season ends, I feel like the whole nation is in a state of lazy recovery. No more family obligations or cooking dinner for 20—it’s time for binge-watching Netflix and savoring a couple days of worry free vacation. Which brings us to our third and final song by Bruno Mars: The Lazy Song.

Today I don’t feel like doing anything.

I just wanna lay in my bed.

Don’t feel like picking up the phone,

So leave a message at the tone.

The end of December brings an apparent break in your fundraising and donor retention efforts. The craziness of the “year-end ask” period has ended and your fundraising and donor retention teams are breathing heavy sighs of relief.

But I’m here to tell you that now isn’t the time to put the phone down. While Strawhecker admits that the year-end giving period is a wise time to reach out to donors, he also stresses the importance of looking for lulls in the fundraising calendar. “February, for example, is a pretty uneventful month (with very few organizations looking for marketing opportunities)”. Strawhecker often advises his nonprofit clients to consider strategizing a creative fundraising ask or other method of engagement with their donors during a time when they won’t compete against many asks. Your donors will hear your messages more clearly when you aren’t trying to stand out among the noise.

Did we miss one? What donor retention strategies does your nonprofit use?

Feature image via: The NY Post

Kathryn Pauley

Kathryn is a regular contributor to the Nonprofit Hub. Soon to be college graduate, she enjoys helping nonprofits understand better how to reach the millennial demographic—cause we are living in a millennial world, and Kathryn's a millennial girl. With experience leading the largest student-run charity event on her campus, she looks forward to bringing her unique perspective to the Hub team every day.

January 7, 2015

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