Onboarding for donors and supporters

According to the Online Fundraising Scorecard, 37% of non-profits did not send an email within 30 days of a person signing up for emails. Only 44% asked for a donation by email within 90 days.

Let me put this in an approximate pie chart:

online supporter pie chart

We’ve seen this week that getting the second gift (or lack thereof) is where there is the greatest retention leak – people who donate once and don’t get enough out of the experience to donate again. Online donors, in particular, are the most fickle and least likely to retain.

This could be because of the medium. But it also could be that over half of all non-profits do engage people right when they express the most interest in the organization – immediately and unequivocally. To demonstrate this, try to remember what email newsletter you signed up for a month ago today.

Chances are, you can’t. Thirty days is a long time to remember you signed up for something, especially if no one reminds you that you did. Replace “the guy” with “the donor” in this quote and you have a pretty good idea of how people think about your organization, at least initially:

Never assume that the guy understands that you and he have a relationship. The guy will not realize this on his own. You have to plant the idea in his brain by constantly making subtle references to it in your everyday conversation, such as:

— “Roger, would you mind passing me a Sweet ‘n’ Low, in as much as we have a relationship?”
— “Wake up, Roger! There’s a prowler in the den and we have a relationship! You and I do, I mean.”
— “Good News, Roger! The gynecologist says we’re going to have our fourth child, which will serve as yet another indication that we have a relationship!”
— “Roger, inasmuch as this plane is crashing and we probably have only about a minute to live, I want you to know that we’ve had a wonderful 53 years of marriage together, which clearly constitutes a relationship.”

Dave Barry, Dave Barry Complete Guide to Guys

You want to strike while the iron is hot – this person cares about your cause now. So you want to set up a welcome series for your donors online. There are some great guides on how to do this and I promise to write one in a future blog post. For now, here are some key tips:

  • Start with a thank you. This person is interested in your organization. They have given you their time and attention. They sound like a pretty cool person who is giving you a fairly valuable thing. This should be rewarded with good manners.
  • After that, if you have a key offer, lead with it. For some, you may be emailing them a temporary membership card. For others, it’s an opportunity to get involved with advocacy. Surveys are also good. Whatever people like to do with your organization online, use it to build their engagement and learn about them.
  • Yes, within the first 30 days. If they donated already, ask them to become a monthly sustainer. In fact, you may want to test whether a sustaining ask works better generally.
  • Test getting them into your mail, telemarketing, and other direct marketing channels. Just because someone started with your organization online doesn’t mean they don’t also have a mailbox and a phone.

This gap of time can be even acuter in the mail. At least with an online donation, you get (or really really should get) an immediate email receipt. With an initial offline gift, there’s the time that it takes the mail to get to the cager (or another person who will open it), the time to deposit the check, print the thank you, batch it, and send it, and the time it takes to get word back to that donor. That alone is pretty bad.

But what happens next is worse: nothing. Let’s say someone makes a donation on January 1st. They may not get into the data pull for a mail piece until March or April, depending on the lead times you have in printing. Picture making your donation, getting a thank you three weeks later, and then radio silence for months afterward. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for retaining that donor or striking while the iron is hot, no?

So instead, create a couple of mail packages that fill that gap that are sent automatically post the initial gift. The same principles apply here as online – things that help you and that your donors like are the perfect here: petitions, member cards, new supporter surveys, etc. You can expect these pieces not only to help your retention rate but also to provide some additional net revenue as well.

Onboarding for donors and supporters

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