Combatting Donor Attrition Through Effective Storytelling

By Terri Harel
Robinhood Sign
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Each time we reread a good book, it rekindles our love and appreciation for the story. This is what nonprofits strive to do with their donors: sustain and strengthen donor loyalty and passion. But oftentimes, donors fail to revisit the mission that activated them in the first place and give again. So how can nonprofits revive donors’ passion for their work?

By reconnecting them to their organization’s story.

There are many ways to approach this, but in this post we will look at how you can use email campaigns to reinvigorate donors’ commitment to your mission.

There Is No One-Story-Fits-All

Let’s say you’re an organization that provides education and volunteer service programs to low-income families. Last month, Annie made a donation – her first one to your organization – towards your local volunteer program in New York, but she hasn’t donated since. Another donor, Ron, has historically donated every two months, each time to your literacy program in Bolivia. However, he hasn’t donated in the past two months.

You want to reinvigorate both Annie and Ron’s commitment to your organization. But you wouldn’t send the same follow-up email about your New York volunteer program to both of them. Although it may be appropriate for Annie, it would communicate to Ron that you don’t pay attention to his support enough to know what programs he’s interested in. This puts you in danger of losing him as a frequent (and potentially monthly recurring) donor.

As with any other relationship, how you communicate with each donor should be determined by the individual history and interactions you’ve had with them. To reinforce supporters’ emotional connection to your mission, you need to remind them of not just any story, but their personal story with your organization. Effective communication requires context.

So how do you make sure you’re delivering the right story to the right donor?

Segment, Segment, Segment

Try as you may, there’s no going around this one. If you want to increase the impact of your marketing efforts, you must segment your donor lists and tailor your messaging.

Using a CRM solution, you can collect and analyze donor data and pull reports based on different criteria. Salesforce, for instance, is a powerful backend CRM system that supports many software integrations. By feeding your various applications, like Classy, into Salesforce, you can effectively manage and track all your donor data in a single database.

There are limitless criteria by which you can segment your donor database, but here are a few to start you off:

• Their reason for giving
• The last campaign or program they donated to
• The last time they donated
• The frequency of their donations
• The size of their last donation

By collecting and categorizing this information, you’ll have the context you need to communicate with your donors in a personalized and meaningful way.

This Workflow for One Person, That Workflow for Another

Using an email automation software solution – like HubSpot, Mailchimp, or Constant Contact, to name a few – you can set up targeted email campaigns to send personalized messages to these different lists of donors. Customize your messages depending on their current stage of engagement.

Let’s take Annie for example. She donated only once, but your email automation software reads that she still clicks through your emails periodically. Automatically send a follow-up email to thank her for her contribution, update her on your current campaigns, and encourage her to donate again.

Ron, on the other hand, has a history of donating regularly. With a personalized email that recognizes his ongoing support, you might be able to not only revive his excitement for your work, but also get him onboard as a recurring donor.

Send an email updating him on the programs he has donated to, the progress you’re making, and how his contributions have made your work possible. Make sure your language reflects that you set him apart for his extra support. If he has been giving for a significant period, then you can bring up the opportunity for a recurring gift.

These are just a couple examples of unique workflows you can create for different pools of donors. The main point here is to align your communications with each donor’s individual narrative with your nonprofit. You don’t want to place a donor in someone else’s story!

The Hero: Your Donor

A while back, M+R Strategic Services released a white paper focusing on “donor-centric” stories that nonprofits can create and weave into their emails. I love this way of framing email appeals. For donors who haven’t given in a while, rekindle their excitement for your mission by speaking about their importance to your work. After all, it’s their donations that are driving your organization’s impact.

Remind donors that they are the heroes in this story, and they continually have a vital role to play.
Elevate their importance to your organization’s operations. Emphasize that they are the ones providing the solution to an urgent need. As a best practice, use the word “you” to make it clear that they have the power to make change happen (ie. “You can help a child learn how to read, today.”)

Craft your language so that donors can connect supporting your cause and their deepest perceptions of who they are as individuals. Let them know that by making a gift, they can write their own stories, as well as be a part of your organization’s overarching narrative.

Apply the power of storytelling to your email appeals. Refresh your donors’ passion for your cause by bringing their world-changing story back to life. By personalizing your communications, you can show them that they have an important part to play in their journey with your organization, and you’re here to cheer them on.

Image Credit: Flickr User Johnson Cameraface

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