With fundraising the most necessary element of continued growth and success of any nonprofit organization, regardless of size, we spend a lot of time in this space discussing donor recruitment and retention. The second part of that equation is has been lacking in many nonprofits despite being so essential. As major donors in particular tend to develop loyalties for specific organizations, keeping donors happy should be a high priority—so why do recent reports indicate that donor retention rates have fallen below 30 percent?

The only way to start working on improving these numbers is to find out what’s driving donors away, but how can an organization know for sure what their donors are thinking?

images3DADXFMIThere are a few options available for taking the pulse of your donors. Whether it’s a good old-fashioned survey using more traditional outreach like email, phone, (gasp!) snail mail, or a more technology driven communications plan, this sort of effort ought to give you a good idea of where you may improve in order to increase donor satisfaction. Before you begin, it’s best to turn the questions internally: what sorts of communications with donors are you doing regularly? Do you have a calendar for outreach? Are you only touching base with donors to ask for more donations? What is your strategy for thanking donors, and is it different for major gifts (i.e., a personal phone call or hand-written note vs a standard-issue form letter)?

What’s the best approach for turning these questions on your audience? To answer this question, Nonprofit Quarterly recently went right to the horse’s mouth and asked a donor directly to provide insights on best practices for reaching out to your donor base. With his recommendations and sample survey questions, you can find out how your donors are feeling about your fundraising efforts, your use of their generous donations, the direction of your organization, and more. The post from October has quality advice for putting together a comprehensive donor survey that will capture your donors’ feelings on all these topics and more.

From the post:

Building Donor Loyalty also provides you with questions about relationship-building performance by the nonprofit. For example, how well do you do in these areas: Thanking donors for their gifts. Being polite in all communications. Informing the donor about how you’re spending donor money. Demonstrating that you care about the donor.

Maybe you think you’re doing well. But ask the donor.

Ask the donor. Ask questions about donor motivation. Ask donors where else they give. Ask donors about your communications. Ask donors about volunteering.

Ask your donors and you will learn important stuff. Then use what you learned.”

As Frank Barry points out in a recent post on NPEngage, if the current trends in donor retention keep up, we could be seeing average retention rates dropping below 20 percent in the next ten years. That number is pretty staggering. As a guide for nonprofits looking to avoid those types of numbers, Barry curated a solid list of tips from experts in nonprofit fundraising to boosting retention rates. While not focused specifically on donor feedback, they all stressed the importance of communications—and not simply financial asks but thank you’s, newsletters, and other forms of engagement to make the donor feel included and appreciated:

“The key to keeping your donors is building a relationship with them. That relationship starts with thanking them in a thoughtful and meaningful way for their gift and it progresses by telling them frequently how they are making a difference.  As their giving grows and you learn more about them you can retain them and get them giving more by developing a cultivation plan that honors their interests and sets a revenue goal for your ask. If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there, but with a plan everything is possible.”

How are you reaching out to donors to determine their level of satisfaction with your organization? Let us know in the comments!