Does donor retention really start with donor engagement?

publication date: Feb 27, 2014
author/source: Danielle Johnson Vermenton

Danielle Johnson VermentonI read a blog recently that posed the question: does donor retention really start with donor engagement? I thought to myself Yes! Finally someone gets it.” We talk frequently about donor engagement being the key to donor retention and how crafting the right story through multiple channels is essential to connecting, but where does that process truly begin? Is it with analyzing your retention rates year over year? Reviewing your current communication pieces? Could it start with training your board on stewardship? Or does it start with surveying your donors and asking for feedback?

In my opinion, retention doesn’t begin with your donors or even a well-crafted story. It begins at home.

“Dorothy put it best in the final scene when leaving the city of Oz. It really starts with understanding your own backyard and developing an appreciation for the unique talents of your team. These are the first gifts you need to cultivate in order for others to decide to do the same.” (Jay Goulart, managing director of Bob Carter Companies)

Every time I’ve spoken to boards and staff on the fundamentals of successful fundraising I’ve started with one rule:

If you aren’t passionate about the mission, if you don’t live and breathe it, then that lack of passion will come across in your communications and relationships. Donors can sense when you’re not sincere and when you’re not speaking from the heart.

It’s been over five years since I worked for the American Red Cross, but to this day, a story about their work moves me to tears. Like the images from Moore, OK from a couple of years ago. Knowing that the Red Cross is always there, helping people with relief and giving them hope — that will always move me to take action, to do something. That kind of passion and commitment is where retention begins. If your team has passion for the mission, then your stories and strategy will reflect it.

And who could say no to that?

If you have your house in order and everyone is passionate about the mission, check out Blackbaud’s new free eBook, npEXPERTS: Show the Love, featuring insight from 13 leading fundraising professionals on ways nonprofits can engage with their supporters to improve donor retention.

For the past three and half years, Danielle has been part of the Go! Team at Blackbaud. Prior to that, Danielle worked for more than 13 years in the nonprofit industry at organizations such as the American Red Cross, PBS and the Boys & Girls Clubs. A former speaker at BBCON, AFP Planet Philanthropy, the Boys & Girls Club Southeast Regional Conference and numerous webinars, Danielle’s passion is inspiring nonprofits to have a plan for today with a grand vision for tomorrow. You can follow Danielle on twitter at @DJVermenton.

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