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The single best thing nonprofits can do to raise money

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NOTE: Want to learn about easy-to-implement, cost-effective donor stewardship strategies? We partnered with Vanessa Chase for a free webinar on May 7, 2015. The recording is available here: Budget Friendly Ideas for Donor Stewardship.

Most nonprofits are facing a similar problem – they need to raise more money each year. So what do you do? Try out the latest social media craze. Increase the amount of direct mail you send. Try to find new major donors. Grow your monthly giving program.

How have those worked out for your organization? Are you getting sustainable fundraising results?

My guess is that you are probably not. That’s because you might not be paying attention to much bigger problem – donor retention. Donor retention is a problem that nearly every nonprofit is facing. Over the last few years sector-wide donor retention has been below 50%, meaning that many organizations are losing more than half of their donors each year. This situation makes it much more difficult for organizations to meet their fundraising goals each year and sustain them over the long run. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s 2013 Survey, only 22.9% of new donors to nonprofits give again after their first gift.

But there is a relatively simple solution to donor retention that can also improve your fundraising results. That solution is donor stewardship.

Donor stewardship is the best way forward. And that’s not just my opinion. In Donor Centered Fundraising by Penelope Burk, 44% of study donors said that prompt acknowledgement of a gift influences future giving decisions. Additionally, Burk’s research found that 46% of donors would stop giving for reasons tied to insufficient or poor quality information about how their gifts were used. In other words, donors want to know what kind of impact they have had but they were not stewarded well.

There are a lot of ways nonprofits can provide stewardship to donors. It can get complicated and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The simplest (and perhaps most effective) way to steward donors is to make thank you phone calls. Burk’s research revealed that 95% of all study donors would be very appreciative if a member of the board of directors called them to say thank you with a day or two of receiving the gift, and 85% of individual donors said that it would influence their decision to give again.

Here are a few tips for making great donor thank you calls:

  • Always introduce yourself, and identify yourself as a staff member. You want to make sure that donors know you are not a telemarketer.
  • Lead with the thank you. You can say something like, “I’m calling today to say thank you for your recent gift to xyz organization. We are so grateful for your continued support because it allows us to do xyz.” You could also share a story or a specific example of the gift’s impact.
  • If the donor wants to engage in further conversation, keep talking to them and ask them a few questions. If they are not interested in more conversation, keep it short and sweet.

If your organization is small and you feel like you may not have time to make thank you phone calls, I encourage you to set aside an hour per week to make calls. Set it up as a recurring appointment in your calendar and be sure to keep it. You can also get help from others with thank you calls. This is a great activity for board members, as it is an easy way for them to be involved in fundraising without having to ask. Take the first 10 minutes of a board meeting and have each person call 2 donors.

Providing your donors with excellent stewardship is more than possible. With a little consistency and an attitude of gratitude, your non-profit will be on its way to retaining donors and raising more money.

Vanessa Chase is an international nonprofit consultant, thought leader, trainer, and speaker. Vanessa founded The Storytelling Non-Profit in 2012 to help not-for-profit organizations articulate their impact to donors in a new way, using narrative techniques to generate greater personal interest and accountability, thereby improving their fundraising success. You can find out more about Vanessa's work on her blog.

Photos (from top) via iStock.com. All photos used with permission.

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