Donor Retention: Are your supporters really satisfied?

Boy with two thumbs upOne hundred and fifty fundraisers attended a 2012 talk on donor loyalty where they were asked to raise their hands if they’d ever conducted a donor satisfaction survey. Not a single hand went up. Though it’s often overlooked in the rush to attract new supporters, donor satisfaction is key for nonprofits in inspiring loyalty, and it’s more complicated than you may have thought.

In customer service, a buyer’s satisfaction can be measured in the comparison of the expected service to that which was received: if you expect a waiter to be kind and he doesn’t measure up, you may be disinclined to dine at that restaurant in the future.

For nonprofits, things get a bit more complicated. Donors measure satisfaction not just in their own dealings with the organization, but in the perceived quality of service provided to the beneficiaries of the donation. For example, a Florida booster club came under scrutiny after parents complained about excessive funding for coaches’ salaries. While the parents may have been happy with the club when they initially donated funds, they later believed the club failed to serve the students who were the intended beneficiaries, and were ultimately unsatisfied.

Too often clubs focus on the donor’s initial satisfaction. Remember, a typical charity loses an estimated 50% of its donors between the first and second gift. Recently published guides to donor retention recommend communicating with your donors on specific timelines — immediately following their donation, then two months later, etc. While creating a template for donor interaction may keep things organized on your end, in truth there is no magic formula. Ultimately, the most important factor in donor retention is to communicate. In Blackbaud’s 2013 survey, five of the nine reasons donors stopped giving were related to communication — either not enough, or not the right kind.

The right kind of communication can make a huge difference: one fundraising blogger found that creating a “donor journey” significantly increased the number of supporters who made and continued to contribute. Supporters were initially invited to attend a welcome event. Those who chose to attend received a handwritten thank you note, and those who didn’t were sent a letter informing them of the event’s success. Support was acknowledged, and regardless of their level of involvement, donors were never forgotten. Two years later, supporters who’d gone through the journey had donated twice the amount of those who’d received regular mailings.

Thank donors initially to create satisfaction with their donation, and follow up with informative and transparent updates to ensure continued satisfaction with your organization. Communicate your successes and engage your stakeholders with your communications, and you will have satisfied, loyal supporters.

This post is part of a series on donor retention. For more tips on keeping your donors loyal, check out our rundown of fundraising expert Adrian Sargeant’s three drivers of donor loyalty: satisfactionidentification, and active commitment.

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