Donor Retention Starts with Genuine Appreciation

What does genuine appreciation look like to a donor or volunteer? American philosopher William James said, “The deepest principal in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” I’ll admit….I have that craving. Getting a handwritten note of thanks is always nice. But, when that thank you note references some specific way that a donor or volunteer has helped, appreciation is taken to a whole new level. Instead of a phone call to just say thanks, call your donor and give them an example of exactly how their gift impacted your mission. Or, cite a specific way that your volunteer impacted a program. Use names and tell a story. Call your donor and ask them for advice when you truly need it. Look them straight in the eye and tell them how much you appreciate them, and what you appreciate about them.

I use the term appreciation because I have never been a fan of the definition of stewardship: “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care” (Merriam Webster). But, I really like Merriam-Webster’s definitions of appreciate: “to recognize with gratitude” and “to increase the value of.” To me, this idea of genuine – and authentic – appreciation is the heart of what stewardship should be. In my last post, we explored making this year The Year of Donor Retention. With that in mind, appreciation should be a priority each and every day!

To this day, I have two handwritten notes that I received from executive directors after finishing their capital campaigns. Now, I have gotten A LOT of thank you notes, but these two stand out above all the rest. Why? Because they both cited very specific situations where my involvement truly made a measurable difference. They each mentioned the situation, specifically how I helped lead them through it, and the impact my specific involvement had on that campaign. When I read these thank you notes, I was able to relive these experiences again, and my craving to be appreciated was very much satiated.

On a scale of 1 – 5, how authentic is your donor and volunteer stewardship? Take a moment and score yourself and your organization:

1 – We do not thank our donors (outside of sending gift acknowledgements)
2 – We thank donors from time to time
3 – We find ways to show donors our appreciation sometimes
4 – Donor appreciation is intentional, and systematic
5 – Genuine, authentic donor appreciation is at the heart of everything we do

Then, pick up the phone and call several donors – donors you know, and some you do not – and ask them. How different is your score from theirs?

Now, calculate your donor retention rate (Can’t calculate your organization’s retention rate? We can help!). I bet dollars to doughnuts you will see a direct correlation – low appreciation equals low donor retention.

If your donors score you below a 4, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your stewardship efforts and make some improvements. From the first touch you have with a donor after they make a gift, to the last touch before you ask them for another gift, what are you doing to show your donors genuine and authentic appreciation? How often, and in what ways should you interact with them? Are you missing opportunities to love on them? How do you involve your board and staff in stewardship that has an impact on your donors? How do you transform these efforts so they become entrenched in your organization’s culture?

Understanding where you are is the first step to making improvements. Next time we will talk about key strategies that must be included in your stewardship program.

In the meantime, Omatic Fundraising and Planning Services can help by assessing your stewardship programs, and helping you refine your efforts and get you on the path to becoming a “5.” Email for more information.

Raiser’s Edge is a trademark of Blackbaud, Inc.

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