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Donor retention: a tale of two cold mailings

This post is my submission for February 's non-profit blog carnival. This month it is being hosted by Marc Pitman at Fundraising Coach. Marc wants to know "How do you keep your donors wanting to come back?"

There has been a huge number of blog posts and articles on retention at the start of 2013 from a variety of respected authors. It's a crucial topic and fundamental to our profession, but what I haven't seen is too many real life examples and results. That's why I wanted to share some of my own recent findings.

A tale of two cold mailings

A couple of months before starting my current role my charity undertook a cold mailing. It did ok, but the donors were put straight into our established mailing programme.

Ten months later we used the same list for another cold mailing. This time we put in place a simple and structured donor journey for the first few communications. 

The aim of this was to:

  • Identify the best prospects to become long term supporters
  • Secure regular gifts
  • Decrease the number of donors only giving once
  • Identify donors who will only ever give once  - an important but often overlooked part of fundraising as it reduces your costs going forward

The results show the importance of having a welcome process and donor journey planned for any recruitment you do.

Cold Mailing - no welcome process - 15 months later

  • 64% of donors have given once
  • Average income per month, per donor is £1.12
  • Average income per month, per active donor is £3.08
  • No donors have a regular gift.

Cold Mailing - welcome process - 5 months later

  • 73% of donors have given once - I predict after 15 months this will be close to 50%
  • Average income per month, per donor is £1.20 (6% higher)
  • Average income per month, per active donor is £4.49 (46% higher)
  • Eight per cent of donors have a regular gift - so far we have had no attrition

There is a caveat that these results are based on a small numbers of donors and are not statistically significant. However, they show that big improvements are possible by implementing a simple process. 

Our simple welcome process

Simple donor journey
Room for improvement

The above is by no means perfect.

We can, and should, make better use of the phone and e-mail and we left it longer than I would like between some of the steps. We can also think about what else we can do for the non-responders to boost response.

The long term impact

As we did it in-house then this process is quite labour intensive and it does increase costs in the short term. However,  by my calculations the donors who have had the welcome process will have donated double the amount of the other donors by the end of year two. A huge difference that more than justifies the initial effort.