The Solution to Donor Retention – Communication!

Vanessa Chase

By Vanessa Chase

Donor retention is a word that strikes fear into the heart of just about every fundraiser I know.  The problem with our sector’s current conversations about donor retention is that they all focus around how we are asking for gifts. How can we improve our asks and our data to keep our donors? The conversation needs to shift to – how can communicate better with our donors so that they continue to care and feel like a part of our organization’s family?

Why Communications Is the Solution

Donor communications ideally articulates the impact that donors are a part of and we know that that is information our donors want to hear. The Cygnus Donor Surveys of the last few years have consistently shown us that.

Donor communications embodies transformational philanthropy, not just the transactional relationship. Your donors don’t want to be left out in the cold. Let them into your community – wholeheartedly. This is how you begin to improve your donor retention rates and develop a community that is unwaveringly loyal to your non-profit.

But there’s something else to think about here – the content of these communications. If your last newsletter reads anything like most non-profit’s websites, then you may be spinning your wheels. The content of your communications must be personal, emotional and relatable. Using stories in your communications is a great way to achieve this.

Storytelling is Where the Connection is at

We are all natural storytellers. It’s how we communicate every day with our friends, family and colleagues. But somehow when we transition into organizational communications, our natural tendency to tell stories is lost. We focus on sounding professional and respectable. But guess what – you can still sound that way when you tell stories.

Here’s the thing – donors lapse and eventually leave because they don’t feel like they have a connection to the organization. They don’t know how their gift has been used or whom they’ve helped or how valued they are. By telling them a story, you can quickly and easily connect donors to the cause in a way that inspires them and in turn retains them.

Non-profits are a natural wellspring of great stories. It’s just a matter of collecting them and sharing them more often. Here are my top tips for transforming your non-profit into a storytelling non-profit.

Tip #1 – Tell Each Other More Stories. Take 5 minutes at your next staff meeting to tell stories from your week. This is a great way to inspire one another and develop a habit a storytelling.

Tip #2 – Know what stories you want to tell your donors. When you have a clear idea of what you want to tell your donors, you can then relay that information to program staff to seek out story leads.

Tip #3 – Have a system for cataloging stories you collect. Create a Word document, a private Tumblr or another shared document where you and your colleagues can record and store story leads. This will make telling stories immensely easier.

Vanessa Chase is the President of and author of the forthcoming book – The Storytelling Non-Profit: a practical guide to collecting and sharing stories that inspire your community. Vanessa’s goal is to help passionate development professional learn the tools and techniques to better articulate their organization’s impact in a way that translates into more money fundraised. Prior to her work in consulting, she worked as a fundraiser at Union Gospel Mission and The University of British Columbia.


One thought on “The Solution to Donor Retention – Communication!”

  1. Great piece Vanessa! People would freak out if they looked at their retention rates over 3 years – apparently we’re spending most of our time & resources trying to fill that leaky bucket! : ) siobhan

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