Donor Recruitment and Retention Can’t Be On And Off

Recruiting a donor is like a light switch, according to Diana Ruano: Either you get someone or you don’t. Development and stewardship is more complicated. “It’s a volume dial,” she said.

Ruano, senior international consultant for Daryl Upsall Consulting International, spoke about best practices for developing donor loyalty during the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals 51st International Conference on Fundraising in San Antonio, Texas.

The first step in stewardship is actually the recruitment. “The best acquisition leads to the best retention,” said Ruano. Part of this first step is examining how the supporter has come to you. Fundraisers need to ask: “What are we doing at that touch point to ensure that the relationship is the best?”

A welcome call should go out to the donor no more than 72 hours after the first gift. Ruano said a welcome call could reduce attrition during the first three months. “It doesn’t matter how they’ve been recruited,” she said. “We’re talking speed in this element. It’s more important than anything else to say thank you. It’s also a great opportunity to verify information and how the person wants to be communicated with.”

After the welcome call should come a welcome letter, no more than a week after first contact. Review the grammar, personalize it and start it with an emotional letter, said Ruano. She directed the audience to sofii.org’s thank-you letter workshop.

Next, you’ll have to register the donor. It might depend on how the donor has been recruited, said Ruano, but “we need to ensure we all have a relational-based fundraising database.” It has to show communications touch points: How many appeals, the donor’s response to them and how they want to communicate.

“You need to be able to do something with the information from the welcome call,” said Ruano. “You need to query, analyze, segment and find out who’s attritioning and what’s not working. If you work with suppliers, your system must be compatible with the suppliers’ system so it’s uploading automatically.”

For monthly donors, a missed payment is an opportunity for stewardship. Reach out for clarification calls: why did the payment get bounced back? “Our experience is we have every type of answer,” said Ruano. The tone is important. It should be apologetic, “I’m sure it’s a logistical issue on our end.” And, Ruano said, it usually is. “The faster you do these, the better they work,” she said.

Once you’ve taken these steps, donor development can begin. Developing a relationship should be both methodical and experimental, said Ruano. It’s often easier to justify acquisition than retention because the return on investment for acquisition is shorter. But an engaged donor can add much more to your organization than one that attritions off your file after the first donation.

“We don’t use the word loyalty, we say development,” said Ruano. “The way we think about donors is a long-term relationship. It can start with the prospect signing a petition or a one-off disaster donor. But the relationship develops. They become a regular donor, then you ask them to upgrade their regular donation. At some point they might become a middle or major donor. You can’t always be doing the same thing with your donors because the relationship evolves. The way you picture fundraising appeals and ideas needs to be evolving as well.”