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Allison Gauss
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Why January is The Most Important Time for Donor Retention

The holidays are huge for nonprofits. Nearly a third of all yearly donations come in December, including many gifts from new donors who may not know your organization very well. Suddenly, your audience is bolstered with a group of newcomers and your community has experienced a growth spurt.

It’s tempting to celebrate a job well done, but how you follow up with, and hold onto, those donors will play a big part in determining your success in the coming year. January is the time to connect with your donors, strengthen old relationships, and nurture new ones.

Donor Retention Matters

Think of all the first-time donors you gained last year, especially those won through your end-of-year campaign. According to current donor attrition trends, three out of four of those new donors will not give again. All those supporters you worked so hard to attract and convert can easily disappear. And that leaves you back at square one, starting the whole process over.

Donor attrition isn’t just demoralizing; it’s expensive, too. Research has found that it costs more to acquire a new donor than it does to retain an existing one.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By taking action now, you can retain more of your donors, both new and old. All it takes is a few simple follow up steps to keep supporters from drifting away, and bolster your fundraising efforts throughout the coming year.

The good news is that once donors make their second gift, they are much more likely to continue giving in the future. Fortify your donor base now so that it will pay off for years to come.

How to Keep Donors Coming Back

Thank Them

As with any fundraising campaign, donors to your end-of-year campaign should receive a heartfelt “thank you,” followed by campaign results and impact. But January isn’t a time to just follow up with December donors—it’s the time to thank ANYONE who donated in the past year.

If someone donated six months ago, reaching out to thank them as the New Year begins sends the message that you not only appreciate their help in the past, but want to give them every opportunity to stay involved in the cause. Of course you should thank people for their recent gifts, but now is the time to express your gratitude for everyone’s contributions. Remind donors that whenever they gave, or however much, you appreciate it.

Check out the Ultimate Thank You Infographic now!

Send Them Great Content

According to a recent survey, what donors most want in their follow-up communications is impact stories. This should be a normal part of your communication with donors. It shows them how their gift has gone on to make real change for your cause.

January is also when most organizations release their annual reports to supporters. This is a great opportunity to engage donors and make them want to do more. Be sure to include graphics, compelling stories, and your plans for next year.

Promote Monthly Giving

One way to make sure a donor keeps giving is to get them to commit to a monthly donation. Average retention of monthly donors is high and even small recurring gifts can add up to a lot. For example, someone who first makes a $25 donation might commit to $5 a month. A year later, they have given more than double their original sum.

Encourage your supporters to make giving a part of their New Year’s resolutions. Promote monthly donations as a way to show continued support and make the coming year a year to give back.

Bonus: Many people receive annual salary increases in January, which might make them more inclined to give more now that they make more.

Read Next: 5 Tips to Increase Recurring Gifts

Reengage with Upcoming Initiatives

Along with promoting the option to give monthly, keep your new and old donors in the loop for what’s next at your organization. While you don’t want to send another appeal right after saying “thank you,” you can let donors know about an upcoming event or milestone.

Maybe it’s sending out a save-the-date email for your run/walk in April, or perhaps it’s your upcoming 10th anniversary celebration. The point is to plant the seeds for future involvement. This keeps your organization top-of-mind and gives an impression of continual progress, but not necessarily continual appeals.

It’s also a good idea to inform donors about your peer-to-peer fundraising options. They may have a birthday coming up or be interested in running a marathon for charity this summer. Offer an example fundraising page to show how it’s done.

Conclusion

You’ve already done all the hard work of acquiring new donors, so it would be a shame to let them all slip away at the start of the year. While January is usually the beginning of a lull in the fundraising year, it can be a valuable chance to build relationships that will power your organization for years to come.

It may seem like extra work right now, but following up and connecting with donors at the beginning of the year will pay off when your big spring and year-end campaigns arrive.


Know Your Donors

know your donors field guide for nonprofits



Image Source: Moyan Brenn

  • jaygoulart

    actually people leave if the content is not relevant to them. Great communication that is irrelevant to the donor impacts attrition exactly as lousy content. Retention is through emotional bonding, not monthly transactions. The research on monthly giving is incomplete and has focused on short term time periods. Retention is managed through understanding strategy impact on 3-5 year time frames. Hope you guys have a great 2015!

    • Allison Gauss

      Good point, Jay. We definitely shouldn’t forget how important it is to create an emotional bond. Wishing you a great 2015 as well!

  • Michael Rosen

    Allison, I have some good news for you and your readers: The donor retention/attrition situation is not as bad as you indicated. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project has issued its 2014 report, and Bloomerang has prepared a new infographic (https://bloomerang.co/blog/infographic-2014-fundraising-effectiveness-project-survey-report/). The donor attrition rate in 2014 was 57 percent Sadly, while retention has improved, even bucking the downward trend of recent years, the numbers are still terrible. Even in the best recorded year, retention was only at 50 percent. With your article and with the work of others, perhaps 2014 will be a turning point.

    By the way, a terrific new resource for those interested in bolstering their donor retention rate is the new book “Retention Fundraising” (http://astore.amazon.com/mlinn-20/detail/1889102539) by legendary fundraiser Roger Craver.

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