53% of organizations report that donor acquisition is one of their top three fundraising challenges. What steps should you take now to acquire and retain donors?

Since early 2020, many organizations have been grappling with how to transition “crisis donors” to “mission donors.” That is, converting donors who made one-time reactive gifts during the COVID-19 pandemic and racial reckoning to donors who continue giving because they believe in the ongoing impact and mission of the organization.

Many early “crisis donors” are on the path to becoming “mission donors,” while others are reevaluating organizations to support on an ongoing basis. Of course, “crisis donors” aren’t the only donors your organization wants to acquire or retain in 2022. According to CCS’s Philanthropic Landscape Report, from 2019 to 2020, digital giving increased by 21% to account for 13% of all giving in the US, a new height. As expected, younger donors are more likely to give through digital platforms than any other method.

Giving Channels Used By Generations

All these factors, unique to this moment in the philanthropic landscape, mark an opportune time to reevaluate your donor acquisition and retention strategies.

As your organization builds its 2022 fundraising plan, it can be helpful to remember that as the philanthropic landscape evolves, so should your acquisition and retention strategies. Competition for attention and dollars is as fierce as ever—and nonprofits across the country continue to see donor acquisition and retention as key organizational challenges. To help your organization stand out and retain a larger number of one-time donors and attract first-time donors, keep the following considerations in mind to inform your plan of action.

Donor retention and acquisition is on the mind of most nonprofits…

…and if it isn’t on yours, it should be. CCS’s 2022 Philanthropy Pulse survey report asked organizations about the top challenges they face today. Respondents said donor acquisition and retention are among their top three greatest challenges (53% and 41%, respectively).

While there might be solace in knowing your organization is not alone in thinking through these strategies, these responses indicate that acquiring and retaining donors will be as competitive as ever.

What are the top challenges your organization is facing today?

Donor acquisition53%
Donor retention/stewardship41%
Leveraging data to make better decisions28%
Hiring and retaining fundraising staff members25%
Increasing deferred (planned) gifts24%
Working toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals18%
Navigating data management issues (e.g., in your CRM)17%
Shifting donor interests15%
Adjustment to a more digital world14%
Budget cuts 10%
Securing more gifts of non-cash assets5%

The first step IN developing your plan is knowing your numbers.

2020 and 2021 saw industry-wide philanthropic trends shift at an accelerated pace. Chances are high that your organization also saw notable changes in the ways donors engage. The first step to developing a strong strategy around acquisition and retention is to understand your own organization’s shifting trends.

As you take a deep dive into your organization's donor retention and acquisition rates over the past five years, consider seeking answers to the following questions:

Communicate Your Mission to Grassroots Donors.

In 2021, one human services organization saw an influx in new grassroots donors as a result of their COVID-19 relief programing. They developed a cohesive communications plan to introduce those donors to the organization’s broader mission and have successfully maintained elevated levels of grassroots support since.

Evaluate Your Direct Mail Outreach Efforts.

Other organizations, citing success in digital fundraising and an increased focus on sustainable practices, have considered dramatically reducing or even eliminating direct mail outreach. Others are finding even greater success through acquisition mailings. Now is the time to deeply assess what your data tells you about the direction your organization might be heading.

These questions will be important to explore to get a clearer picture of how your organization has experienced the uncertainty of the past few years. Once you uncover trends in your organization’s fundraising data, you can begin to develop and implement a plan to capitalize on the areas where you’ve been successful.

Key steps for developing a successful acquisition and retention plan

Now that you’ve taken a magnifying glass to your organization’s recent data and trends, it’s time to put a plan into action. The outcomes of your internal assessment should provide a good starting point for formulating your acquisition and retention plan for 2022.

A good acquisition and retention plan should speak directly to your target audiences by sharing compelling stories of your mission’s impact. It should include strategic and measurable goals and you should be prepared to adjust any approach as needed. Lastly, a good plan should always maintain a donor-centric approach to ensure that it is simple and intuitive to engage with your organization.

Segment your donors and prospective donors.

A young donor who made a first-time $20 gift through your organization’s social media page might respond differently to certain content than an older donor who wrote and mailed a $20 check in response to a mailing. Your strategies should be unique to the segments you are trying to reach.

Create content that is topical, compelling, and speaks directly to your target audience.

Strive for content that educates donors on how your organization’s mission is making an impact now, in real-time. Regardless of the platforms and channels through which your organization most successfully reaches donors, successful acquisition and retention strategies often revolve around educating donors on your mission through compelling storytelling. What are the stories your organization can tell that highlight how and why your organization’s mission is making an impact right now?  Ensure that your content speaks to an ever-diversified donor demographic and strives to cultivate a more inclusive and equitable philanthropic sector.

Your content will be the primary way your audiences will engage with your organization. Take time to create targeted and meaningful donor journeys to educate them on why they should invest or continue to invest in your mission.

Set measurable goals and continually assess progress.

As you develop your plan, be sure to lay out clear and measurable goals. Evaluate these goals on a regular basis and be prepared to be agile in shifting priorities or content strategies.

As a potential goal-setting benchmark, CCS’s internal Data Analytics, Systems, & Research team observes an average donor retention rate of 46% across the organizations CCS has worked with over the last 5 years.

Strategically budget to meet your goals.

If your organization has experienced an organic influx of new donors over the past few years, you might consider the acquisition cost of those new donors as near-zero. As funds were not spent on acquiring these donors, you might consider heavier investment into retaining these types of donors. Be sure that your costs are supporting outcomes that help reach the goals you’ve set.

Finally, ensure that it is as simple as possible to make a first-time gift or give again.

As digital fundraising continues to grow, ensure that giving to your organization, across all platforms, is simple and straightforward. Once you’ve done the legwork to compel a donor to give or give again, you don’t want to lose them due to an arduous donation process.

Having a solid donor engagement plan will help you succeed.

Following these steps will support your organization in building a strong plan to attract and retain donors in 2022. In an environment where many organizations are grappling with questions around donor acquisition and retention, having a strategic, measurable, and nimble strategy backed by strong content will make your organization stand out among the noise.

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