Rhonda Moore

QUICK SHOT: Death, Taxes and Donor Attrition

It has been said that nothing in life is certain… except death and taxes.

When it comes to fundraising, there is a third certainty: donor attrition. If there’s one thing we can count on in fundraising it is this – around 30-40% of donors who gave to your organization last year will not give again this year. For some organizations, it’s as high as 50%. And that, my friends, is the harsh reality of attrition.

Brewer Direct’s annual benchmarking study, which evaluated 33 Rescue Missions, found that the average attrition rate in 2019 was 36%. When you look at new donors only, we saw that 64% of first-time donors acquired in 2018 did not give again in 2019. Yikes!

Benjamin Franklin quote

But before we get too depressed, let’s talk about something that is GOOD.

I’ve been hearing stories about Missions that have experienced an incredible outpouring of generosity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities are stepping up and giving extraordinarily.

We’ve seen this among the Missions we work with as well. Take a look at these year-over-year figures for March-May, which reflect the activity of 17 Missions:

  • 27% increase in number of active donors
  • 34% increase in total website visits
  • 122% increase in total number of online donations.
  • 167% increase in total online revenue

But these donors who came on during the last few months may not be around to stay, which takes us back to attrition.

Historically, donors who give to your organization in response to a specific emergency situation are difficult to retain in future years. I found that to be true during my time spent working with World Vision, an international relief and development organization. Huge numbers of donors took action and gave following crises like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, only to drop off the donor file in subsequent months. My Brewer Direct colleagues who worked with The Red Cross and The Salvation Army say the same thing. Emergency donors don’t typically stick around after their initial gift.

So how do we hold on to these COVID-19 crisis donors?

Here are some ideas to boost retention…

  • IDENTIFY. First of all, make sure you can identify these new emergency donors in your database. Assign a special flag so they can be easily pulled. This will help manage your messaging to these donors. See next point!
  • SEGMENT. Segment this group to receive special messaging in future communications that references the crisis that brought them in the door and why their ongoing support is so critical.
  • THANK. Show these new donors extra special thanks. Looking for ways volunteers can help from home? Mobilize volunteers to send handwritten thank you notes or make thank you calls.
  • CALL. Many organizations regularly use outbound telemarketing to reactivate lapsed donors as part of their overall fundraising strategy. Add these newly acquired emergency donors to your existing calling campaign as a cost-effective way to ask for a second gift.
  • UPGRADE. Convert emergency donors to automatic monthly giving. Drop them an email of special thanks telling them how their gift was used and explain why monthly donations are so important. Address the reasons they likely came on board, and encourage them to give monthly to help your organization consistently. Set your monthly ask amount fairly low, knowing that their first gift in response to COVID-19 may have been a stretch for them.

Parting thoughts…

Retaining donors who give in times of crisis is certainly more difficult, but not impossible. It’s definitely worth the extra effort to think through your communication touchpoints and develop a retention strategy specifically for these donors. Remember, a person doesn’t truly become a donor until they make their second gift.

  • Rhonda Moore

    Rhonda Moore, Director of Client Strategy and Planning

    Rhonda is a fundraising strategist with 20+ years’ experience in both not-for-profit and commercial marketing. She has worked with World Vision, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Best Friends Animal Society, and numerous Rescue Missions across the U.S. Prior to joining Brewer Direct, she served as Director of Marketing at City of Hope Cancer Research Hospital in Duarte, CA.

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