Understand Your Donors to Improve Year-End Retention: 3 Tips

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Understand Your Donors to Improve Year-End Retention: 3 Tips

The year-end season is a massive fundraising opportunity for nonprofits of all sizes given the surge in energy we see around Giving Tuesday and holiday campaigns. 

Many nonprofits see an uptick in donor acquisition during this time, but a repeated emphasis on acquisition campaigns exhausts your time and money. What’s far easier and optimal is retaining those year-end donors and extending their giving across the calendar year instead of constantly replacing churned supporters. This strategy holds value because it transcends the year-end period and will benefit your organization over the course of many years.

Consider Giving Tuesday 2021. While the number of individual donors who gave decreased from the unusually high energy of 2020, retention of donors acquired in 2020 was incredibly high. In fact, new retained donors to the campaign in 2021 increased by 26%. Nonprofits that saw excellent retention rates last year-end season can look forward to continued support as these donors have given their “golden donation”—locking in the relationship beyond their initial gift. 

But to tap into this benefit, the nonprofits must now put in the work to actively develop those relationships and encourage retention. How? By learning more about their donors and tailoring their outreach and engagement strategies accordingly. Here are three fundamental tips to help you kick off your year-end fundraising plan:

  1. Understand your year-end audiences.
  2. Ensure you’re collecting the right data.
  3. Segment your donors and look for stewardship opportunities.

Let’s dive into how you can maximize your year-end giving potential with donor retention.

Understand your year-end audiences.

The first step to any fundraising campaign is tailoring your outreach tactics to your target audience. Your nonprofit should take a deliberate approach to give some extra attention to previous year-end campaign donors to boost retention.

Since your existing year-end donors have given in the past, they’re a perfect group to pull your data from. This data will provide insights as to how and why your year-end donors interact with your organization. Your strategy should be to replicate this data as much as possible to keep your donors interested in giving again. If you don’t have this information saved or if it’s out of date, consider using a data append service so you can develop the most tailored approach possible.

Once you’ve solidified your target audience for your year-end campaign, it’s time to develop an outreach strategy. Chances are, you’ve already created campaign collateral for the year-end season, such as email, social media posts, campaign landing pages, phone call scripts, text messaging, and more. Elevate these strategies by creating separate versions specifically meant for past year-end donors. 

As these supporters have already given in the past, your nonprofit should use appreciation as a tool to encourage giving. Your strategy can include: 

  • Creating specific donor appreciation marketing messages applauding them for last year’s donation and explaining how they can magnify their impact in the coming year using hard facts and data.
  • Recruit previous donors to launch their own giving pages in a peer-to-peer campaign and drive donations through social proof, the idea that a prospect is more likely to give once they see a loved one give.
  • Offering incentives such as branded merchandise made specifically for returning donors or an invitation to a legacy event celebrating returning donors.

Your nonprofit should be working to show thanks to your donors anyway, so this is a great way to achieve two favorable outcomes at once. 

Ensure you’re collecting the right data.

The previous tip raises another important one – you can’t specifically target an audience of last year’s year-end donors if you can’t feasibly identify them.

Before the giving season starts in full swing, ensure your technology is configured to help you collect the right data automatically. This means integrations between your various outreach and donation tools and your nonprofit CRM. Ensure you’re practicing good data hygiene habits and keeping detailed records for the following data points:

  • Age
  • Current address
  • Employment
  • Gift history 
  • Average gift amount
  • Hobbies
  • Year-end giving activities
  • Preferred method of giving
  • Preferred social media platforms

These analytics are powerful indicators of which marketing tools and strategies will be most effective for your nonprofit. 

With these connections in place, it’s easy to fundraise more efficiently and target your audiences effectively. For example, a donor gave last Giving Tuesday. Their donation data was automatically reported to your CRM and tagged with the date. When you emailed them follow-up messages throughout the year, your email tool registered that they opened most of the emails, a good sign that they’re still engaged with your mission and message. With this information in hand, you can easily sort this donor into a new email stream written specifically for active Giving Tuesday donors.

Segment your donors and look for stewardship opportunities.

One of the most crucial elements of donor retention is meaningful connection. You likely have loyal supporters who look forward to being a part of your year-end campaign. On the other hand, you’re also likely to have casual donors who just gave once and didn’t necessarily plan to do so again. It’s up to your nonprofit to spark meaningful engagement with these prospects to make them want to participate in your campaign once more. 

Take the idea of sorting and segmenting your year-end donors further by screening them for larger stewardship opportunities. Segment them into various groups based on their qualification as a potential mid-level or major donor rather than just their past giving history.

To do this, you’ll need prospect research tools and strategies in place, especially wealth screening software. Here’s how it might work:

  • Screen all of last year’s year-end donors (or a select group, like year-end donors who gave over a certain amount). 
  • If you identify donors with the potential to give larger gifts, sort them into two or more groups based on their estimated giving capacity – potential mid-level and major donors.
  • Then, dig deeper – within these groups, who had pre-existing giving histories with your nonprofit, and who gave for the first time last year? Donors with a history of engagement with your nonprofit should become top priorities for personalized outreach.

This process is invaluable for helping your development team efficiently tackle the task of donor research and qualification after a busy fundraising season. You’ll be able to build and refine your prospect lists and more easily prioritize follow-up tasks based on the potential of the relationships. 

And even if your nonprofit doesn’t have a full-fledged development team or major gifts officer, it’s still important to adopt some form of this process and regularly repeat it. 

Building even a small list of prospects, keeping it updated over time, and keeping your relationships warm is an essential part of growth for nonprofits. Should you launch a larger project or capital campaign in the future, you’ll need to rely heavily on these relationships to reach the finish line. In other words, the influx of donors you likely see at year-end is the perfect opportunity to hone your development/research skills and invest in your future growth.

Retention is an offshoot of the most important facet of fundraising: donor loyalty. It’s a critical part of the process that could be what your nonprofit needs to jumpstart sustainable growth. The year-end period provides an ideal timeframe for you to reach donors when they’re at their most generous.
Now that you have some tips, it’s time to put your plan in motion. Take inspiration from your connections in the space and see how they engage their donors through year-end campaigns. Above all else, prioritize the donor experience by ensuring that your donors feel appreciated. Thank them for their support and wish them a happy year-end. They’ll be sure to remember your kindness and appreciation during the most wonderful time of the year!

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