The Foundation of Donor Retention

November 23, 2016

Continuous improvement is not fun. It's not glamorous. It's usually boring to talk about. But there is a core set of activities your development organization must constantly improve at if you are going to get to the next level.

One such area is the accuracy of your data. See, I told you. Boring. But humor me.

Ask yourself these questions: Is your database better now than it was a year ago? How do you know? Do you measure it? Will your database be better in a year than it is now? Really? How will that happen? Are there policies and procedures in place that will make it improve?

Consider your returned mail. Don't assume someone, somewhere is updating the system. Find out. What about bounced emails? And if you are not telemarketing, most of your phone numbers are not getting used, checked and updated.

Why is this so important? All your donor retention strategies begin with the use of data. If you can't contact your donors, you can't solicit them, and you can't retain them.

Data is the foundation of donor retention.

To launch a continuous improvement program for your database, you need to determine and track key metrics. The old saying goes, what gets measured gets improved. I recommend a "constituency report." Segment all the records in your database by type. This varies by organization but you might do it by demographics such as alumni, parents, faculty, physicians, patients, clients, corporations, etc. Whatever your primary market groups are. Or you might segment by donor stages: prospects, donors, recently lapsed donors, deeply lapsed donors, and so on.

Get a headcount for each constituent group. Then calculate in each group the number and percentage for whom you have a good mailing address. Then do the same for email addresses. Then do it for phone numbers. You should strive to have more than 95% good mailing addresses for your current donors and 90% or more for recently lapsed donors. You want 80% of the phone numbers and emails for both groups, too. Those standards are high, but so are your annual fund goals!

The constituency report becomes your annual benchmark. At the same time every year, do a new constituency report and compare. Identify the trends and know what is getting worse or better. You will know if your policies and procedures are effective.

If your data is not good enough to support your development goals, there are companies that can help you find addresses, phone numbers and emails. It's definitely worth what they charge to connect with people who have supported your cause in the past.

I know having clean data is not an exciting topic. It's hard to brag about it. But you can brag about raising more money!