2 min Read
March 22, 2016

3 questions all fundraisers should be able to answer

“How many of our first-time donors give again?”

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project has been studying donor retention rates for years. Their recent study found that only 19% of first-time donors will give again (source: FEP 2016 report). That stat makes me want to gnash my teeth and pull at my hair. After all the hard work we do to attract and inspire that first time gift?? Seriously?? 

Contrast that with the 63% of repeat donors who will continue to give, and the writing’s on the wall: focusing on first time donors is key to building a solid base of donors. 

Measuring how many of your first-time donors come back and give again is a no-brainer. It’s an easy way to increase your overall donor retention rates and your organization’s overall income.

In his excellent presentation on digital donor retention at the International Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in March 2016, Steven Shattuck offered up practical ways you can help inspire those first-time donors to give again. Here’s the data that informed his suggestions:

  • First-time donors who get a personal thank you within 48 hours are 4x more likely to give a second gift (source: Tom Ahern).
  • A three-minute thank-you call will boost first-year retention by 30% (source: Roger Craver / The Agitator).
  •  A thank-you call from a board member to a newly acquired donor within 24 hours of receiving the gift will increase their next gift by 39% (source: Penelope Burk).

While you set these practical tactics in place, don’t forget to benchmark how many of your first-time donors are making second gifts! Doing so, and then pulling that data again at least annually, will help you measure how effective the tactics you experiment with prove to be, and justify their ROI (or not). 

“What’s our overall donor retention?”

Sector-wide, only 43% of donors give again (median), according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s 2016 report. Steven Shattuck’s surveys reveal that less than 45% of fundraisers know their own nonprofit’s donor retention rates.

Track your donor retention rates each year to see how you compare, and to set more realistic targets for your growth. Bloomerang’s handy Donor Retention Math Made Simple tool will teach you how. 

“What’s the quality of our relationship with donors and awareness in the public like?”

According to Dr. Adrian Sargeant, understanding your donors’ satisfaction, commitment, and trust are essential to ensuring the quality of the relationship you have with them, not just the amount and frequency of their giving. That’s essential if you want to move past transactional fundraising into relational fundraising.

But how do you benchmark the satisfaction of your donors or levels of awareness and affinity with people who aren’t giving to you already?

Many organizations conduct their own donor surveys and other forms of custom research to supplement what their numbers already tell them, either using DIY tools like Survey Monkey or hiring researchers to help.

However you do it, consider repeating the same study at regular intervals so you can establish a benchmark and measure your progress against it (ideally every year or two). Don’t forget to build a line-item into your organization’s annual budget for conducting research to ensure you can do it consistently. 

Lastly, Big Duck launched a new way to benchmark and track awareness, affinity and engagement for your organization in both the public and with your own list, too (details are here).