By Aaren Ballinger, Sr. Consultant
For nonprofits, donor retention is a constant battle - every year, roughly 60% of donors who make an initial contribution never give again. One way to address this phenomenon is by developing strategies and business practices that align with a philosophy called “donor-centered fundraising”.
Donor-centered fundraising is a term popularized by fundraising guru Penelope Burk. She defines the term as “an approach to raising money that inspires donors to remain loyal longer and give more generously”. At the heart of the philosophy is developing a deeper relationship with donors by communicating with them in a consistent and personal manner. Simply put, demonstrating that you know your donor and treating them like an individual and not a number.
Being donor-centric isn’t just a problem for fundraisers to solve - advancement services and IT professionals that work with CRM systems have an integral role to play as well. Here are five ways that you can leverage your CRM system to practice donor-centered fundraising.
Record a donor’s gifts correctly and direct them to the appropriate programs.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an important thing to get right. Part of the unwritten contract you make with your donors when they give you their hard-earned money is to put those funds to work as they wish. That’s why it's imperative to set up campaign, fund, and appeal hierarchies in your CRM system that will funnel donations to the right areas of your organization. When gifts are recorded properly, it makes it easy for donor relations professionals in your organization to report back to donors on the impact their gifts have made on specific programs they are passionate about.
Send your donors prompt and meaningful acknowledgments.
Donors want to know that their gift was received and appreciated. Acknowledgment correspondence should be sent quickly - ideally within 48 hours, though donors expect immediate confirmation for an online donation. Create business processes for your CRM that automate acknowledgment correspondence as much as possible - like queues that run after business hours to pull in new donors to be acknowledged. Acknowledgments should also be as personal and specific as possible. Segment your acknowledgment letters just like you do your appeal letters, and create tailored messaging for each segment. Talk specifically about the program they contributed to (which should be easy if you followed step one and recorded their gift to a specific fund!)
Get granular when tracking donor preferences.
One of the best ways to communicate that you respect your donors is to listen to them and then demonstrate that you were listening by abiding by their wishes. Ask them often how they would like to be contacted - both timing and medium. Create specific coding on donor records that tracks these preferences, and then make sure that you exclude or include donors in the appropriate communications based on these preferences. Make this foolproof using standard communication templates in your system that automatically exclude the proper constituents.
When it’s time to ask again, don’t make them question whether you know them.
Hopefully, by the time you are ready to ask your donor for another gift, they have a warm and fuzzy feeling about your organization from all of the donor-centric outreach you have been doing. Don’t screw everything up by sending them an appeal letter that addresses them like a stranger! Addressing them with the dreaded “Dear Friend” is bad, but totally botching their name is even worse. For example, if your long-time donor always goes by a “Betty” and you address them as “Elizabeth”, they are going to immediately feel alienated. Train everyone in your organization to capture information about preferred name formats for their donors, and make it easy for them to record that in your CRM, or communicate it to the appropriate team to make the change. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to name formats, and ditch outdated ways of addressing constituents (“Mr. and Mrs. John Doe” doesn’t feel very special to Jane Doe if she is actually the one writing the checks!)
Hopefully, these tips will help you make your donors feel like the center of the universe - and they will respond by continuing their generous support for many years.