Roger Craver wrote the book on donor retention! Called Retention Fundraising, he walks through the reasons for retaining donors, the metrics to measure your success at retaining donors, and the things to do to convince your board, your boss…and yourself to focus on it! Effective donor retention isn’t about cajoling or manipulation. It’s about doing the right things to grow an ever-deepening relationship with your donors.

In this webinar, Roger shares:

  • the specific reasons donors never give to you again
  • what keeps donors giving to your nonprofit, and
  • 5 specific things you can do today to boost retention

This training will help you raise more money at far less cost!

Additional Materials for Easy Donor Retention Wins

Download the audio here: Easy Donor Retention Wins MP3

Download the slides here: Easy Donor Retention Wins PDF

Get the research Roger mentions, links to other sites, and the book Retention Fundraising here:

The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration Roger mentions can be found at: (You definitely want to check this free site out!)

Read the entire transcript for Easy Donor Retention Wins

Marc Pitman: Hello, everyone. This is Marc Pitman. Welcome to another edition of NPA Presents, the regular webinars of the Nonprofit Academy. I am so excited that you're here, and I am super excited for the content you're about to hear. So some ground rules as we get started.

There's a question and answer box right on your screen if you're watching this on the web. Please ask questions. I am monitoring those, and I'll pepper those either... pepper Roger with those as we go through the session or after, during the Q&A time. I want to make sure that you get as much out of this as you can. If you're not at a computer screen, and you're just calling in, you can feel free to tweet NPA Presents, with the hashtag, #NPAPresents, or just tweet me, @MarcAPitman. Make sure you have your questions there too.

I can't tell you how excited I am today, because our guest is Roger Craver. No joke, right here on my desk is his latest book, "Retention Fundraising," which I read in one morning. I just consumed it and kept taking notes and underlining things. This is a very beat-up copy already, and the book is just out last month.

Roger has been responsible... he's been in the sector for 55 years, and he's been, more importantly, successfully in the sector. He's been responsible for groups that I know as household names, groups like Green Peace, Amnesty International. He helped National Organization for Women become a household name, World Wildlife Fund, all sorts of organizations, and it's not just here.

So those of you Nonprofit Academy members from other parts of the world than the United States, he also set up and worked in both Holland and the United States for 20 years. He knows how to do big direct mail programs and work with big organizations, but he also knows how to do small grassroots organizations.

One of the things that I love about Roger is that he's not into smoke and mirrors. He wants data. He seems to be a... he's a no-nonsense kind of guy. If something... he tests things, and he shares what works. You can read his blog, I definitely encourage you to sign up there for the email newsletter and subscribe to the blog.

He's responsible for other companies that are helping nonprofits across our sector, including one that I'm really a fan of, which is Donor Trends, just bringing out some database numbers, stuff in your database that you may not have seen in a way that you can actually take action on.

Roger, I'm already going longer than I normally go. So I'm going to stop gushing and having my little Roger love fest and let you take the slides and take control of the next hour.

Roger Craver: Okay, Marc. Well, thank you very much. That's way too generous. Hi, everyone. Delighted to be with you because nothing that I've worked on in the last 55 years is as important, I believe, as retention. So what I want to do today is give you some easy retention wins that, regardless of the size or budget of the organization, if you can understand some of the fundamental principles I'm going to cover, you can dramatically improve your retention rate.

So we're going to talk a bit about why retention is important, deal with some of the metrics, outline to you why donors leave an organization, the actions an organization can take that will determine whether donors stay or go, what you're likely to encounter within your organization that serves as a barrier to effective retention within the organization, and then give you five easy and inexpensive retention wins, things you can do to improve your retention.

So why should we even care about retention? Well, here in the United States and in most countries around the world, the reason we should care is that only about 40% of dollars raised stay with the organization. The other 61% vanish out the door. It's a horrible, horrible waste, and it's even worse where first-year donors are concerned. In the United States, on average, about 25% of the donors stay into the second year, 75% abandon ship in that first year.

So if for no other reason, the concentration on retention is very important for long-term sustainability. It's one of the reasons I often wonder why the growth is not as sustained as it should be. That's because, for example, in the United States, but this is true elsewhere, for every... over the last 10 years, for every 100 donors gained by organizations, 105 are lost.

So it doesn't take much arithmetic or mathematical skills to understand this is a shrinking resource unless we do something about retention, which always makes me wonder. Why do organizations spend so much time and money, acquiring new donors as opposed to spending time and money on holding on to the donors they have?

For example, if you look at that bullet point on the top left, an organization has less than a 2% chance of obtaining a gift from a prospect. Yet, it has a 20-40% chance of getting a gift from a donor who has recently left the organization, but a 60-70% chance of obtaining additional gifts from an existing donor. So you can see where I'm going with this. The ability to hold on to donors is extraordinarily important.

If you look at this chart on the right-hand side of the slide, you'll see what a difference, financial difference, holding on to donors makes. This is a five-year cumulative income from an organization of 5000 donors. You can see that the 41% retention rate will produce about 750,000. Whereas a 61% retention rate will produce an excess of $1 million. So it's a significant financial difference, just by being able to hold on to donors.

Marc: So, wait, before you go back, could you go back on slide, that last one? I just want to make sure that we're all clear. An additional gift from an existing donor. So this is somebody who's given... a lot of our nonprofits would say they're a donor because they've given in the last 12 months. This is... there is a 60-70% likelihood of them getting an additional gift from that same person?

Roger: That's right. That's right. That's right.

Marc: So cool. That is so cool.

Roger: Yeah. Yet, many organizations say, "We want to acquire more and more donors." Well, it's okay to... you have to acquire new donors because you do… no matter how good you are at retention, you do lose some. But the reality is that it's kind of foolish to spend money to pour new water into a bucket when there's a big hole in the bottom. If you can hold on to those donors, then you can raise more money from existing donors and have additional money to spend on acquiring new donors.

Marc: Thanks.

Roger: Okay?

Marc: Yes.

Roger: So we're not going to go into a lot of detail, but I do want to illustrate how you can calculate your retention rate, because most folks really don't understand how to do that. Yet, it's so simple. So let's take a look.

The first thing you do is count the total number of donors who gave to your organization in the most recent year. So in this case, it would be 2013. How many donors gave in 2013? Then you divide the 2013 number of donors by the number of donors who gave in the second year. In this case, it would be 2014. So you take 2014's total, divide it into 2013, multiply the result by 100 to arrive at a percentile, and that will give you the percent of your retention rate.

So for example, if 100 donors gave your organization money in 2013, but only 50 of those same 100 people made a gift in 2014, your retention rate is 50%. There are a variety of ways to use retention rates. You can look at what your retention rate is for the first year, for newly acquired donors, or you can do what in the trade is called a blended retention rate, meaning what is the average retention rate across all the years.

Other people look not only at the percentage, the number of donors who were being retained year over year, but also what is the retention income rate. So you follow the same thing. You just look at the income from donors in 2013, divide it by the income from those same donors in 2014, and you will find the income retention rate.

Sometimes the income retention rate is higher than the percentage retention rate, and that's great. That shows that you are holding on to the funds, which at the end of the day, unless for some bizarre reason you want to count number of donors as being the most important. Of course, as a fundraiser, the most important thing is being able to count on that income going up year after year.

There are two key metrics that I want to illustrate to you that most organizations don't pay much attention to, but it's very, very important. One is the lifetime value of a donor. That is how much money does a donor give you over a period of years. Let's say we're calculating a five-year lifetime value. So you take the total amount of money that donor has given you or all your donors have given you, minus the cost of acquiring them and the cost of servicing them, and that will be your lifetime value. I'll illustrate this in a moment.

The other, which is a bit more esoteric, but it is at the heart of the reason you work on retention, is the donor commitment or the donor loyalty rate or metric, because it is loyalty or the commitment of a donor that will ultimately determine that donor's lifetime value. Meaning, the more loyal they are, the more committed they are, the longer they will stay with you, and the more money they will give to your organization.

It's very important to understand this concept of particularly lifetime value, because you'll make decisions regarding how you invest money, and lifetime value is like a GPS, a steering mechanism to navigate your fundraising programs on.

Here's an illustration. What would your board say? Just look at the left-hand side of this chart. If an organization spends $24 the first time they get a gift of $6, which is a loss of $18, would your board approve of that? Or in the case of organization B, if it spends $250 for a first-time gift of $110, which means a loss of $140, would your board or your CFO buy that? Or in the case of organization C, if you spent $320 for a first-time gift of $199 and lost $120, what would your board say about that?

Well, the illustration here is of the lifetime value return on investment. Organization A is Starbucks. Starbucks spends $18.40 to sell that first frappuccino or that first latte. Yet, that investment is worth $14,000 in return over a 20-year period. That's the lifetime value of a customer.

Organization B is an illustration of Amazon and the sale of its Kindle. They will spend $250 to sell a $110 machine, for a loss of $140, because over the years, they are going to get thousands of dollars in return from that investment.

Illustration C is a typical life insurance policy, which will spend... the insurance company will spend about $320 to get $200 worth of annual premium. But over the period of the life of the policy, that's worth tens of thousands of dollars to them.

Excuse me. So understanding lifetime value becomes a very important steering mechanism. I don't know if there are any questions about that, but we'll answer them.

Marc: Wow. That's just mind-boggling. What happens when you take this to boards, when you show it to board members?

Roger: Well, they say, "Oh, my heavens. Really?" Because it's very interesting about boards. Excuse me. Although most boards have business people on them or people who have some financial experience, they seem to check that experience at the door when they come in to a board meeting. They say, "Well, we're spending more than we're getting when we get a new donor." Well, yes, of course, because you're investing in holding on to that. You're investing in acquiring that donor. If you invest a little bit more, just a tiny bit more to hold on to them, that is worth a lot of money.

So what I say to boards is there's a real investment paradox in the nonprofit world. Many organizations have an endowment, and they will invest that endowment in a market like this and not get a very big return, particularly over the last 10 years. Maybe they put it in a certificate of deposit or something safe. They'll get 2% or 3% return. Maybe they'll invest it in the stock market and get an 8% or 10% return.

But when you consider that any normal fundraising program produces about a 35% annual return on that investment, they'd be a lot better off taking those endowment funds and investing them in the growth of the organization. So that's the paradox that exists between the way a board thinks about acquiring new donors and the way they understand what the value of those donors is once they are acquired and retained. So it's a very important metric to understand.

Marc: Okay.

Roger: The other part of this... I'm sorry, Marc. Did you have a question?

Marc: No, I was just going to say thank you. I know that was one of the questions, another questions on the slide. Yes, those will be... slides will be accessible as a PDF to everybody watching. Some people are trying to scribble really quickly. You will get the slides too, and you can always get the book, "Retention Fundraising," because a lot of this is in there. Okay. Go ahead.

Roger: Yeah, you can... if you... let me just say not... I don't want to do a shameless plug for the book, but the book...

Marc: Please do.

Roger: When I wrote the book, I also built a website for it because there's a lot of research in that book that I want to keep updated. So if you go to, you can buy the book from that site, or you can sign up, and I'll keep you posted with updates to the book and relevant articles and research if you're interested.

Now, the other metric we use, which is something that most organizations don't, although it's quite easy to calculate. Most organizations depend on RFM, recency, frequency, monetary value, when they look at donors or when they segment a file, a database, of donors to determine what they're going to do with those donors.

A better way of doing that is to look at the loyalty or commitment of donors because, after all, RFM is a snapshot of the past. It's not predictive of the future. Whereas commitment or loyalty is a predictive measure of the future.

Just look at the difference on this chart, for example, between a high-commitment, that's the column in the middle, and a low-commitment donor. The response rate on the average appeals we've tested this on, is 31% for a high-commitment donor and 13% for a low-commitment donor, and the return on investment, just look at the difference, 943% on the high-commitment donors and 229% on the low-commitment donors. So commitment matters a great deal. Take a minute...

Marc: Are you going to... Roger, are you going to tell us how to measure that?

Roger: Yeah, I'm not going to tell you now. It's a very simple way to do it, and I could either send some supplementary stuff, but it is a little bit esoteric. I don't think we have time for it, but it's covered in several chapters of the book, along with survey techniques and scoring formula for doing that.

Marc: Yeah. Okay.

Roger: There's basically a series of only three questions that you have to ask donors to find out what their level of commitment is. It's quite simple to apply and use. In the appendix of the book, which you can also find without charge at, that is all described.

Marc: Great. Thank you.

Roger: Just take a few seconds and, in your own mind, think about what the top reasons are, why donors may leave your organization. Just write it down or talk to your neighbor and...

Marc: Type it into the Q&A box if you want.

Roger: Whether you put it in the Q&A box, and we'll take a look at why donors leave, because unless you understand why they leave, it's a little hard to keep that water of donors in the bucket without it leaking out. So let's take a look.

This is from a study by Adrian Sargeant and the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University. It pretty much applies study after study, around the globe. Just going through this quickly, because you can look at these slides later, 5% of the folks don't think the charity needs them. Now, what that means is that the charity sure isn't making the case for why these folks should keep on giving.

Connected to that is that 8% of donors abandon ship because they get no information on how their contributions were used. There are two fundamental questions a donor asks herself or himself when it comes to giving, apart from, "How will it make me feel?" which is the most important question. The other two questions related to giving are: Why do you need my money? And did my money make any difference?

If you don't tell the donors why you need it, and if you don't tell them how it made a difference, you're going to lose at least 13% to 15% of those donors. Look at this, 9%, the next one, 9% of these folks have no memory of supporting the organization. Now, that's a pretty poor piece of communication that organizations are doing, if 9% of their active donors don't understand that they've made a contribution to that group.

Now, the next is an unforgivable piece of sloth or non-work or complacency or something, 13% leave because they've never been thanked for contributing to the organization, 16% because of the average age of these donor bases, leave because of death, 18%, nearly 20%, leave because they either get poor donor service.

Let's say they call, and they want a question answered, or they want their address changed, or they want to know when the next meeting is. They get lousy donor service, and they're not communicated with properly. They hit the exit.

Others, 36, a third of them feel that other organizations are more deserving. Now, this goes to how well your organization differentiates itself from other organizations. So you lose, on average, nonprofits lose a third of their donors because they think that other people are more deserving. The reality is when a donor stops giving to you, she doesn't stop giving. She just stops giving to you. She switches her allegiance or contribution pattern to other organizations.

Fifty-four percent of the people say they can no longer afford it. Now, we know from hundreds of these surveys that that's mostly a lame excuse. They don't want to either be critical of the nonprofit, or they don't want to articulate why they left. But we know that most of that 54% keeps giving to other organizations. For those of you who are mathematically inclined, these percentages add to more than 100% because the survey methodology is what it is.

Now, the most important thing, the one thing if you don't take away anything else today, I really would like you to focus on, with the exception of death and personal finances, every one of the reasons why donors stay or go is within the control of your organization. As I say here, as soon as you understand and act on this, your retention rates will begin to rise.

Marc: That's exciting.

Roger: It is the action of an organization that determines whether its donors stay or go. It's not the donors themselves, and I'll explain why in a minute. Marc?

Marc: This is exciting. This is just like Stephen Covey says. We're not victims. We can be proactive. We can do something about this. We don't have to just sit and twiddle our thumbs and wonder why people aren't giving to us. We've got data here, and a lot of it is your story.

Roger: That's right. Absolutely. You can't blame it on the economy, and you can't blame it on competition, and you can't blame it on the phase of the moon or height of the tides. None of that has anything to do with why a donor stays or goes. It has everything to do with what the organization did affect that donor's attitude.

Let's just take a look at how donors flow into the bucket and how they flow out. You look at that faucet or pipeline in the upper left-hand corner. New donors flow into the organization either because they are brand new donors, or they are new donors who are fleeing from your competition, and they think this time they like you better.

This is particularly true in causes that have multiple organizations in the same space. It's particularly true, for example, with health charities. It's particularly true with the disease research charities, the environmental groups, the wildlife groups, conservation groups, where there is a lot of mission competition and often not a lot of differentiation. So they basically lose donors to one another.

They flow in there, and there's some donors you will lose through the bottom, through the holes in that bucket, for lifestyle reasons. There are others who switch, and then there are, as you see on the right-hand side, donors that you, the organization, drive away. That's what I want to talk about next, because this...

The behavior, the actions your organization take are what affect the donor's attitude, and it is the donor's attitude that causes the donor's behavior. The donor's behavior, being to give or not to give, to stay or to go. So it is the action of the organization that influences this attitude, positively or negatively.

This whole human relationship and donor relationship is nothing more than a niche part of human relationships, depends on the consistency and reliability of an organization, which go together to form trust. This is not some conjecture on my part. This is a social science, proven theory that has been known for 30 years, called relationship theory.

It applies to personal relationships. It may be a romantic relationship. It may be a marriage relationship. It may be a relationship you have with a close colleague, and it's certainly the relationship you have with donors. So let me talk a little bit about consistency.

If you go to a restaurant for the first time, and you get a great meal, and the service is spectacular, and the bill, the fee for the meal, is fair, and you are very pleased, you probably will decide to go back to that restaurant. The second time you come back to that restaurant, the food is still good, but the service is lousy, and they've doubled their prices. That is probably the last time you're going to go to that restaurant, because it has not been consistent.

If you have found that... if you are a donor... let's talk about reliability. If you are a donor, and you call the first time and say, "Listen. You misspelled my name when you sent the thank-you letter. It's not Carver, it's Craver, C-R-A-V-E-R," and you are met with a very rude clerk on the other end of the phone, chances are you are going to stop your giving right then and there, because that organization is not reliable.

So the combination of being consistent and reliable equals trust. Consistency in fundraising, for example, is the thank-you process. Let's say I'm an environmental organization, and I send you a prospecting package, an acquisition package, asking you to give money to save the whales. You send in your money, and pretty soon, you get a nice thank-you letter, talking about all the good work your organization does where strip mining is concerned. You've lost that donor. There is absolutely no consistency in that relationship upfront. Therefore, there is no trust.

So it's what you do from the very beginning of that relationship and do it consistently and reliantly throughout that relationship that will build the trust that is essential to all human relationships, but it is absolutely essential to loyalty or commitment. As I said earlier, this attitude toward commitment or loyalty can be measured, and you can also identify the positive and negative actions the organization is taking, so that you can remedy those. That is set forth in the appendix on You can see how that is done.

But my point today is that until you understand how your actions affect the donor's feeling toward your organization, it is a constant guessing game. I think probably everyone listening right now plays that guessing game to some extent. Someone in your office will say, "Well, we really got to send an annual report," or, "That newsletter is very important," or, "We don't have to thank them within the week. It doesn't really matter. They always complain that we're spending too much money on thanking them."

So everyone guesses. No one knows. The reality is most annual reports you can get rid of, and no one will ever miss them. In fact, where I've gotten rid of them, the retention rates usually go up. Same is true with magazines. The same is not true with newsletters, but you have to find that out for yourself.

The point being, it is the actions you take. You can find out. You can identify those. Then you can move to get rid of them, or you can move to improve them. Are there any questions about that?

Marc: No, I think people are just furiously writing notes. Just a reminder that you can do questions and answers either on Twitter, @MarcAPitman, #NPAPresents, or in the Q&A box , like some of you have done already so far.

Roger: Okay.

Marc: I've already asked those questions.

Roger: Okay. The basis for all this is the result of three years of study of tens of thousands of donors to 250 representative nonprofits in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. We narrowed down. We started with 82 drivers or actions an organization could take that might influence whether or not a donor stays or goes. We narrowed those down to 32 drivers. Then we subsequently narrowed the 32 down to what we considered to be the seven universal drivers of donor commitment.

I've listed them here in the priority order, which came out of our research. Now, this will alert you. This will vary from organization to organization. It may not be in the same order, or there may be some different drivers. But, by and large, these are the key drivers.

The first one, how a donor perceives the organization is achieving its mission. Remember, we looked at that 5% figure, 8% figure, that folks didn't know whether their money made a difference. Well, telling them how you're achieving your mission is a very important driver. Excuse me.

Knowing what I, as a donor, should expect from the organization. This is the consistency and reliability factor. It is also a top driver. Receiving a timely thank-you, as simple as that is, most organizations do not do it properly. Therefore, they are losing a boatload of donors, simply because they're not saying, "Thank you." I'm going to come back to that important one in a moment.

Does the donor have the opportunity to make their views known? None of us in this session have solid personal relationships unless there is give and take. You wouldn't have a relationship with a rock or a brick wall, because there is no human interaction. Well, so many organizations don't bother to ask their donors what they're thinking, what they want, what they're pleased with, what they don't like. Yet, it is such an inexpensive, easy thing to do. If you look in the appendix of, you will see free widgets, tools, that you can use online to get this feedback from your donors.

Does your donor feel that she or he is an important part of the cause? That is, are they involved? Are you thanking them? Are you using the term "you" as opposed to "our" organization? After all, the whole object of being a donor-centric organization is to put the donor at the center, to let the donor know that she or he, you, who are responsible for this success.

So those organizations that brag about the number of regional offices, the number of PhDs, the number of column inches they have in the Times of London or the New York Times, whatever, that's all organizational, institutional nonsense. CEOs love it. Program officers love it. It doesn't amount to a hill of beans when it comes to holding on to a donor.

Does the donor feel that he or she is appreciated? Do, every once in a while, you just send a special little surprise? Nothing expensive, but sometimes just a nice photograph of some work your organization is doing or perhaps an internal memo that describes how important donors are and what the donor's contribution meant to our research or to our helping the poor or feeding the hungry or what have you.

Finally, do you give the donor a good sense of what that money is going to, in terms of people? Who are the people? Or who is the wildlife being helped? Do you picture and tell interesting stories about the beneficiaries of your organization's work? Those are the key drivers of donor commitment. Before I talk about what stands in the way of all that, are there any questions about the drivers of commitment?

Marc: Sure. I guess one question is coming through. I'll try rewording it, hopefully successfully. Timing wise. So your comment about just sending even a picture of what Shanon Doolittle calls mission moments is something that's happening and thanking the donor for that. Can that... does year-end giving... they're getting so much mail now anyway. Would that be overwhelming? Or does that seem like still something that they can do in the next couple of months?

Roger: No, it's something they can do right now in preparation for year-end giving. Why not send something out that's a special surprise, a little gift? Maybe it's a photo. Maybe it's a report. Maybe it's an e-book. Who knows? Send it out now, and it'll be very much on the donor's mind when the year-end appeal comes.

One of the great myths in fundraising is that you can send too much stuff. You can never send too much stuff if it's good stuff. I mean, yes, you certainly can send too much stuff if it's lousy, but there is nothing in serious research that suggests that you can ask too many times or send too much information to an active donor. Because after all, they wouldn't be an active donor unless they cared deeply about what your organization is doing.

So don't be afraid of reaching out too much. Be afraid of reaching out and communicating too little. That's why some of the things I...

Marc: On that note, Roger, we worked with a group, a camp for disabled people. I was working with a colleague of mine in Connecticut. They did that. Their CEO said, "You're sending too much stuff." So they created large binders where they photocopied or printed out every single communication that donors had, and then they put that listed all the touches on a left side of a piece of paper and, on the right side, a same cohort, like a board member who was a non-donor, which was an issue with this organization, so that they could see this is everything that the donor actively engages getting, and this is what the non-donor is getting.

As they went through it, they're looking for the voice. Is our organization speaking with a consistent voice? But also, are we just sending them the same stuff? When they went through the one that had something like 36 touches in 12 months, they realized this is not overdoing it. It was email. Some of it was invitation to events. A lot of it was thank-yous for gifts, because she kept giving. So you're absolutely right. We think we're sending too much, but we need to sum that and stop thinking that way.

Roger: No, that's a very good point, Marc. Ironically or paradoxically, I guess, the larger the gift, the more cautious organizations become, which is absolutely counterintuitive. If someone gives you $100,000, the major gift person will say to the direct mail person, "Don't send them any more stuff. We need to protect them." Well, that's the surest way to drive a major donor away, is to withhold information.

I've seen that for the 55 years I've been doing this work. I mean, it is absolute idiocy. Why groups persist in doing that, I'll never know, but there are many things I'll never know in life, but that's one of them.

Marc: No, I want to underscore that because that is true. When I was starting out in the field, it was... some person hits whatever we consider to be a major giver. So we got to stop them from all the other stuff that brought them to that level. As though, "Oh, my goodness. If they get a $25 option to give, they're not going to give the $25,000 gift that they just gave."

We can segment our annual appeal. Yeah, let's keep the annual stuff going, but let's develop personal relationships with them as well, not in absentia, but it's a both/and, not an either/or. That's good.

Roger: No. Exactly. You can see on the right-hand panel, this slide that, excuse me, the various reasons why people pour out of that bucket. They feel unknown by the organization. They get irrelevant communication. It's the irrelevancy of the meaninglessness of the communications that's dangerous, not the number of them.

There's an absence of a two-way dialogue. There's a shortage of information provided to the donor. There's too much communication of the wrong sort. By that, I mean too much bragging about the organization, too much attention on the organization's efficiency and it's such a… we raised money at a 10% cost. There's not a donor alive that cares about that.

Inconsistent messages. The consistency of this stuff is very important. The one thing that is overlooked so much, and I'm going to come to that in a minute, is poor donor service. Most organizations treat donor service as somewhat of a stepchild. The junior assistant intern to the assistant intern is given lunch duty to take donor calls or to return donor calls. That is about as foolish an expenditure of time as there can be. Donor service is an exalted part of fundraising, and people need to pay attention to that. So let's take a look at...

Marc: You know, hearing you say that, Roger, my first ever info product that I ever made was creating donor evangelists in 2003. I was just reviewing it for a talk I'm going to give in Sweden, and that was exactly what it was all about. I called it donor relations, but it was using Gallup research and some other stuff to show we need to be doing these things.

So, in that, one question, because the rest I know you're going to answer. The rest of the questions have similar themes I think you're going to answer in the upcoming slides. But the question on getting their views spoken or hearing their views. There's a question. Can that be just done just in a visit too? You know? What do you think...

Roger: Oh, absolutely.

Marc: One way I've heard... okay. Good. Yeah.

Roger: Absolutely. It can be done in a visit. You can say, "Look. We're thinking of doing this, that, or that. What do you think?" Or, "We've been sending a lot of reports on our work recently. Are they valuable? Aren't they valuable?" Donors will tell you that. You can also do it by way of your thank-you letters, where you enclose a little questionnaire, or you can do it...

The easiest way to do it and the most truthful way, meaning you'll get more objective answers, is on your webpages. As I said in the appendix, there's a free widget that you can use, take you about 10 minutes to put it on your website. It's automated. So it provides you the feedback, and it measures the level of donor commitment from high to low on that inquiry.

Marc: That's so great that you guys were able to offer that for free. That was really nice. Thank you. That's good.

Roger: You bet. Now, the barriers to retention. Without question... remember, again, we're dealing with consistency and reliability. So the biggest barrier or a big barrier are the silos within an organization. By silos, I mean one department not speaking to the other. This is particularly true in American and British and, to some extent, European charities, where the major gift people don't talk to the web people, and no one talks to the direct mail people or some combination of that, so that everything is broken into separate silos. The messages are separate. They're almost always inconsistent and, therefore, a big problem, a big mess.

The next is False attribution, is a little more difficult to understand, but it is very important. Many fundraisers believe that it is what they do that produces the retention rates and the lifetime value of a donor base, and that is not true. That just happens to be the way most fundraisers and CFOs and CEOs think about it. They think that year-end appeal is what produced that money, but that is not the case.

We know from our studies that only 25% to 35% of the lifetime value on a file is produced by the fundraisers. The rest is produced by the organization as a whole, the quality of donor service people, the quality of the program people, the quality of the messages the communications folks do, so that when you look at the results of a year-end appeal, for example, the fundraisers will say, "Oh, wow. Look at this. We did a terrific job."

What you don't know is maybe that appeal didn't work as well as it should have because there was lousy donor service or because the communications department hadn't done its job throughout the year, or because something else in the organization was not going extra well. So you need to be very careful about how you attribute results, because measuring anything on a campaign-by-campaign basis is very difficult and often misleading.

The reality is that the attribution of retention rates and lifetime value is organization-wide, and you can't separate it without a lot of danger. Now, your number three poor different... I'm sorry, Marc. You had a question?

Marc: No. Go. Go. I'm just agree... I'm just interacting. Sorry.

Roger: Okay. Okay.

Marc: Didn't mean to distract you.

Roger: Poor differentiation... This is... Remember in that pipeline, new donors who come from your competitors. Remember in the chart with why donors leave. Those 18% who were leaving because they felt the organization wasn't as deserving. Well, that's a result of poor differentiation. Meaning if you take... let's just use direct mail as an example.

Here, in the United States, if you take the direct mail from 10 environmental organizations and lay it side-by-side, if you took off the logos, I guarantee you no one would know whose mail was whose, because what happens is, in fundraising more than most trades, people copy each other.

Now, it's one thing to copy best practices and follow that. It's quite another thing to assume that the look and message of a package is a best practice. So it is very easy for organizations to take each other's donors away if the organization isn't capable of differentiating itself from its competition.

One of the ways you differentiate yourself is not necessarily with those direct mail packages, but it's by how you treat the donors. It's by how you thank them, how you communicate with them, what the level of donor service is, so that when some competing offer comes to the donor, the donor isn't the least bit tempted to jump ship in favor of some organization. They're very happy being with you.

This is one of the reasons the next barrier, premiums and tschotzke, these labels, calendars, junk that's used to attract usually new donors is so dangerous, because there is no bond being formed between the organization and the donor. This stuff does not have any intrinsic value of a donor relationship. It's extrinsic, and it almost never works where building lifetime value is concerned.

Finally, what I call chasing the unicorn. You know, it's always easiest to imagine that the grass is greener or there's another type of donor. The current fad that's been a fad for the last five to eight years is, "Let's get the Millennials. Let's use social media. Let's get online." Direct mail is dead. Personal meetings are dead. People don't have time for meetings.

Well, all that is nonsense. The belief that you can build an organization on 29 to 35-year-olds is unicorn chasing. A young donor in fundraising, no matter where you are, is someone who's 50 years or older. That's the average age of a donor. Doesn't mean young people won't give money, but the chances of retaining them is pretty low.

So you need to be, excuse me, quite careful about what your expectations are, and you need to be doubly careful about giving up on things, donors, types of donors who have proven to be successful for you in the past. So don't fall into that myth of the unicorn.

Marc: Okay. So questions...

Roger: Any questions there?

Marc: Yeah. For those of you that are asking questions, I see them. They're good. I know that Roger is probably going to nail them all with the next section of slides. If you're still... if you have a hard-fast stop that you have to do at the top of the hour, don't worry. Everybody has access to the recording of this after. But Roger has some great, easy, and inexpensive ways to increase your donor retention. That is coming up.

As if all that he shared wasn't enough so far, I've got pages and pages of notes here. There's still some more coming up. Roger, I appreciate your saying earlier that you'd stick around and do it all. This is great.

Roger: No, I'm glad to. Let's talk about the easy and inexpensive wins when it comes to increasing lifetime value and retention. Every... there's nothing I'm going to suggest that any organization can't do if you think about it and apply yourself.

First is learn to say, "Thank you." Now, thank you is more than a receipt of a gift. It's more than some pre-printed computer form. A thank-you really should be heartfelt and should relate to the purpose for which the donor made a contribution, and it should be timely. Meaning, if you delay thanking people for weeks and months because you want to put everything in a batch or whatever reason you want to do that, you really are defeating yourself.

The simplest thing is a heartfelt note that is sent out in a day or two days after the gift is received. If you can't do that, then just pick up the phone or get some volunteers to pick up the phone to say, "Thank you," because the thank-you is the gateway to the most important next step in fundraising, for a new donor at least, which is to get that second gift. Because once you get the second gift, then you're well on your way to building a good lifetime value.

So say, "Thank you." In the reading list, in that appendix through is a link to SOFII, this Showcase of Fundraising, Imagination, and Innovation. There's a great thank-you clinic on SOFII, which is free and which you should take a look at.

Improve your donor service. I've already gone through that. That's at the heart. Remember, nearly 20% of all donors leave because of lousy donor service. It's well worth either outsourcing it to a company that knows what it's doing or training people and paying them. They could be volunteers. Train them to give the proper donor service, because nothing is so off-putting as someone who believes they're an important part of an organization, getting lousy service or getting a rude person on the telephone.

Be boring. Now, what do I mean by that? I don't mean write boring copy or anything like that. What I mean by be boring is be consistent. One of the great mistakes most organizations make is that they think that they always have to come up with some new message, some new piece of creative.

What happens is that in the drive to change because they're bored, they end up confusing the donors because of inconsistency. In politics, there's a good reason why candidates for office use the same speech over and over and over. It drives their campaign staff nuts. It drives the press nuts, but it doesn't drive the voters nuts. To the voter, this is a consistent message, and it's very important. Well, the same with a nonprofit. You really need to be consistent or, as I put it here, to be boring.

Give donors the opportunity to talk back. We've talked about the widgets that are available. Just understand that by... here's an interesting statistic. By merely asking a donor's opinion, you will improve the retention rate, whether the donor answers or not. The mere act of being asked their opinion will improve their commitment to your organization. So, by all means, ask.

Pick up the phone. No piece of technology invented in the last 125 years is as effective for fundraising as the telephone, whether it's professionally done or done by a skilled volunteer or a member of the staff. Here's an interesting statistic from the public broadcasting network here in the United States. Over the last three years, they have conducted a test of thanking new donors with a less-than-one-minute phone call that costs less than a dollar. It improves the retention rate of first-year donors by 30%. That is an amazing increase in retention, for almost no cost. In the UK...

Marc: Can you say that again? Sorry. A one-minute call, less than one minute...

Roger: Just a call that thanks the donor, doesn't ask for anything else. Marc, we just want to thank you for your gift. It arrived today. We really appreciate it. We're going to put it to work immediately. Thank you. Goodbye. You will remember that call, and you will stick with that organization. You're 30% more likely to be with them than if you didn't get that call.

Marc: Wow.

Roger: Yeah, very inexpensive and quick thing to do. In the UK, a firm by the name of Pell & Bales has found that for every thousand pounds invested in thank-you calling, it yields nearly 10,000 pounds return on that investment, so a significant and simple thing to do. So don't listen to your CEO telling you he doesn't like phone calls, or she doesn't like phone calls. Doesn't matter what she or he likes. What matters is what the donor likes.

Marc: I have had so many fights with CEOs about that.

Roger: Yeah. No. Exactly.

Marc: They get addicted when they start seeing that donors enjoy that. They do get addicted, most of them. But, boy, it's a hard hurdle to jump.

Roger: Yeah, I know it is. I know it is. The data are on the side of doing that. So just to recap, say, "Thank you." Focus on your donor services. Be consistent or be boring. Seek the donor's opinion and feedback. Pick up the phone and thank them.

Now, some resources for you. You all watch Marc's stuff, and he covers a lot on retention over the months. There's a website I mentioned, The Agitator, which is not just about retention. We try to cover a lot of other things. The company that did the research and has the background for a lot of the stuff in today's presentation is Donor Voice. Their website is there. SOFII, I already mentioned. Of course, I have to shamelessly urge that you buy that book. So if you go to the website, you can find places to buy it in Europe and in Canada and in the United States. So my time is up, and I thank you for yours.

Marc: Do you have time for a couple more questions?

Roger: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Marc: Okay. Great. Thanks so much, everybody. I wish this were... we had a way of hearing the applause because we know that this is... actually could you flip it back to the previous slide, just so that people can copy down those while we're answering the questions? Or the one before that. Yeah. Thank you. Awesome.

All right. So one of the questions... well, the one that most recently came in... I'm kind of working backwards, I guess. Just how do we get CEOs to do this, as somebody said? I think you answered it. It's showing them the data. Right?

Roger: Yeah, most of this stuff is if you just do it, they can see the results almost... they can see them easily within a few months. Some of this you can see almost instantly, like the thank-you calling. You'll see their giving improve on the next appeal.

The interesting thing about that thank-you call that the public broadcasting system discovered is even if you leave the thank-you on their voicemail, it improves their retention and improves their giving for subsequent appeals, and it lasts multiple years. You only have to do it once.

Marc: Oh, my goodness.

Roger: Yeah. Yeah. It has a sort of a time-release gratitude factor.

Marc: Wow. I know there was one faith-based organization we gave to. I got a phone call at my work when I was a fundraiser. I was shocked because I couldn't believe, A, they're calling me at work, even though it was a number I'd given them. I don't know why I'd done that. But anyway, I couldn't believe they were calling. I was girthed up for the pitch.

All they want... they said, "Hey, you know, we just regularly pray for our donors. We wanted to pray for you. Is there anything in particular that we can be praying for as we do that every morning?" I waited for the other shoe to drop, and there wasn't. So I called her on it. I said, "What?" She said, "No, we're really appreciative that you're investing in our organization and in our ministry. We don't take that lightly. We don't take that for granted, and we're really grateful." Like what?

Roger: No, that's very important because taking things for granted is the biggest error organizations make. So many organizations treat donors like they're some kind of an ATM machine, that we shouldn't be spending any money on holding on to them or communicating with them or thanking them or involving them.

Now, they're a big pain in the neck. The organization that thinks that way is doomed. It just simply is going to fail and increasingly so in the future, because the demographics of giving have changed so much in the last 20 years that we've gone from the time when donors who were World War II babies were active and sort of blindly loyal. Whatever the organization wanted, they'd do. To today's baby boomers who are far more skeptical.

Now, we're moving towards the generation Y and X generations, who want to be involved, who want the organization to be accountable. So the organization that isn't focused on its donors really has very little chance of surviving.

Marc: I was just at a reception, listening to some research from one of my colleagues that works in Graham-Pelton. She was saying that the studies show million-dollar donors, it's not just small donors. It's million-dollar donors, particularly women who give million-dollar gifts and above, like to volunteer for nonprofits. It's not bugging them. It has to be to ask them to be involved and give of their time too, but that's something that they actually... it helps them figure out where they're going to make their larger gifts, is by the way they're engaging in the organization. It's not just gen-X and gen-Y, which is pretty cool.

Roger: No, that's...

Marc: It's scary for nonprofits because we don't have the systems for that.

Roger: Right. Well, they should get them. Actually the organizations that are quite good at that are a little more highly developed, if not quite good, are the medical centers and hospitals. They tend to have more ability to involve people or more skill involving them, whether it's the candy-stripers or other volunteer things, but also increasingly involving them in the life of the institution, all the way from grateful patient programs to the volunteer information types of things. It's very important because people who volunteer factually give twice as much money as people who don't.

Marc: Wow. Did everybody get that? Wow. All right. Okay. So I was going to... I could keep going on that, but I want to honor the questions here. There are two more that I'll share. One of them was being boring. So on the being boring theme, which I'm so glad that was one of the points because that's huge, and it makes our job so much easier. I tell people if they're starting to get bored with their message, it's only starting to take root with their audience.

Roger: I think that's good advice. Good advice.

Marc: Thank you. So the question is: Do we just use the same annual fund theme? I've been around a lot of people that have spent inordinate amounts of time trying to decide what their theme was. So I think this question maybe have that behind it. Do we just run the same theme and kind of clean up the language? Is that what you're saying about being boring?

Roger: Sure. You can. Yeah. Because the test here is not creativity. The test is consistency. If a theme has worked, then clearly it resonates with the donors. So use it again. I mean, Burger King or McDonald's doesn't change its menu every day. It's a standard, consistent, regardless of what you think about the nutrition. You know? They've learned that if they mess with it…

The classic case in commercial marketing is when Coca-Cola decided it was getting bored with its product because it was losing ground to Pepsi. They decided to just dramatically move to new Coke. Well, they almost wrecked the company. They had to reissue the earlier product as Coke Classic because they violated that rule of consistency.

Well, the same is true with any nonprofit. I mean, if you had built a donor base and acquired a donor base and kept them active, working to save, for example, the wolves, and then you suddenly change to sea turtles, those donors are not going to stay around. Often, that happens because the scientists or the program officers and sometimes the fundraisers get bored with that same old message. They want to do other things. If they want to do other things, they should find another job because they're not doing their organization any favors.

Marc: Or their donors.

Roger: Right. Exactly.

Marc: Wow. Okay. Great. So the final question will be on the false attribution part. I love the whole idea of the whole organization statistically validating that the whole organization has impact on giving. When I worked at a boarding school, I wanted to get... reissue everybody... I wanted to, out of my budget, reissue everybody's business cards to be Doctor so-and-so, department chair of English development or the English department and fundraiser. I wanted "and fundraiser" to be added to everybody's title because they were training the alum.

Roger: Right.

Marc: All of those experiences cumulatively in the classroom were affecting my job as a fundraiser for positive effort or not.

Roger: Right.

Marc: So the question is: Are there ways that you've seen organizations be able to share that, to not only share the message of, "We're all in this together," but I think behind it is also the idea of kind of sharing ownership of the goals, like the compass point, underdeveloped studies show? That as an organization shares the goals and shares the successes of them, more people start getting on board with the whole fundraising effort. Have you seen organizations do that well?

Roger: Yeah. Yes. If you look at... Adrian Sargeant, last year, did a study called "Great Fundraising." He looked at five British charities that had tripled their income in a short period of time and isolated the activities that made for great fundraising. He found that it was basically those organizations who moved to a culture, an organization-wide culture, of fundraising as opposed to putting it in departments that showed the greatest growth.

In order to do that, many had to get rid of people. They had to bring in new leadership. They had to re-orient people toward organization-wide goals, and most changed their compensation systems to be based on retention or commitment rates, so that everyone was paid according to how the organization did, not how a particular department did.

Marc: Nice. So that's "Great Fundraising" by Adrian Sargeant?

Roger: Yeah, "Great Fundraising." I'll send you a link so you can send it out, Marc. It was published by Clayton & Burnett about a year ago.

Marc: Oh, sure. Okay, great. Super. Well, I am really privileged and honored that you came here. I know that people's minds are worrying with all the practical things that they can do. To those that are listening live, if there was one thing they would do this afternoon, Roger, what would you advise them to do?

Roger: I would take a look at your thank-you process.

Marc: Awesome. That's good. Well, thank you. I will do that by thanking you, Roger. If you could move to the last slide now. Thank you for being here. Everybody that's part of the Nonprofit Academy and the others that are listening, we live in such an exciting time for fundraising because we're no longer at the whims of, "Well, my kid's school did a bake sale, and it worked well for them," or, "I used a blue pen, and it seemed to work well for me."

But we're actually having people like Roger and Adrian Sargeant and others do the research, the quantifiable, intellectually acceptable and responsible research to find out what is helping, what are making these decisions, and then they're giving it to us in books like "Retention Fundraising." So don't let… the opportunities that we have to excel have never been better and they're for all the sizes. Like Roger said, these are... all five of those things, small nonprofits can do, all the way up to large, sophisticated ones. In my experience, often the small ones have a more flexible time making these changes than the larger ones.

Roger: No, that's true. It's all... Yeah.

Marc: No silos.

Roger: It's often easier for small ones to do it because they're more personal. They don't have a bureaucracy standing in the way. Their biggest problem is they may not have enough people or enough time, but just cancel a couple meetings, and you'll have the time.

Marc: That's great. So thanks, everyone. The replay will be up momentarily in the Nonprofit Academy. You'll be getting... everybody that's registered will get this in their email as well. I'll have the extra links up there for SOFII and some other things right on that page. Just remember to see the next upcoming sessions at If you're not a member, I strongly encourage you to join that.

Our next webinar is actually our November one next week, with Andrea Kihlstedt, who's going to tell you exactly what to say in the asking conversation and when to say it and how much of the time you should be being quiet or talking. So with that, we are concluding another edition of NPA Presents.