Retaining At-Risk Donors: 3 Tips for Proactive Engagement

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Donor churn is incredibly costly for nonprofit organizations. After all, acquisition gets expensive, and the opportunity cost of missed potential donations can be substantial. This is especially true when it comes to your generous donors who make recurring gifts—considering their lifetime value for your mission, you can’t afford to lose touch with these supporters.

And while combating churn should always be a priority, today’s circumstances have made it more important than ever. Many organizations have seen an uptick in first-time donations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter a new era of fundraising and, in many locations, return to the ballroom for in-person fundraising, retaining the support of those who found your nonprofit online over the past year will be critical.

If you’ve already invested in creating a recurring giving program, you must actively manage and reduce churn to see the best possible results.

At Dataro, we create AI software for nonprofits to take greater control of their campaigns, appeals, and giving programs through proactive predictions. Here are the tips we’ve seen work for nonprofits looking to combat churn and retain at-risk donors:

1. Identify churn risks in advance.

To truly get ahead of churn, you’ll have to start identifying at-risk donors before they lapse out of your regular giving program.

The easiest way to get started? Artificial intelligence. Machine learning analyzes deep trends in your historical data to identify individuals who are likely to churn out of your giving program. These predictions are based on the entirety of your historical data (not just a handful of metrics) and get updated on a rolling basis.

From there, you can use the AI-generated list of at-risk donors to begin proactively engaging those individuals.

Without AI, you might be able to proactively find general groups of at-risk donors, but it’s often easier said than done. Your team technically could study the engagement markers of every individual lapsed donor in your CRM or database to find broad trends between them, but this would be extremely time-consuming and difficult, if not impossible, to do accurately.

Saving at-risk donors before they jump ship can have massive benefits for your bottom line, but the tedious process described above simply isn’t feasible for most organizations. Rather, AI will be your most reliable and efficient choice to immediately point you in the right direction.

2. Don’t ask at-risk donors for more money.

Once you’ve identified at-risk donors (through methods like AI-driven predictions), don’t ask them for more money. A poorly-timed ask can be detrimental to your relationships with donors, especially if they might already be on the fence about staying enrolled in your giving program.

Instead, look for other ways to engage them and keep your mission on their minds.

Our top recommendation is to engage with your most at-risk donors via telephone. In our experience working with nonprofits, we’ve consistently found that telephone calls are the best way to measurably reduce churn among at-risk donors. Here’s how you could approach this process:

  1. Use AI to generate lists of at-risk recurring donors on a regular basis.
  2. Funnel these at-risk donors into a dedicated “engage and retain” communication cadence. Ideally, this will involve a rolling calling program.
  3. Contact these donors with simple thank you messages, updates about your organization, and why their gifts have mattered for your mission. Lean into your storytelling strategies!
  4. Regularly repeat your identification and call process. We’ve seen organizations conduct their rolling calls monthly or every two months, depending on the size of their programs.
  5. Track your results and churn KPIs over time.

With this type of structure, backed up by AI-generated churn likelihood insights, you can see some serious improvements in your churn and retention rates.

From there, you can continually build on your retention program to streamline long-term contact. For example, once you’ve called an at-risk donor to reinforce your relationship and express your gratitude, you’ll need to stay in touch. Try creating a dedicated retention email stream designed to boost long-term engagement with more impact stories, event invites, and constituent updates.

3. Offer a broader range of long-term engagement options.

AI predictions and concrete re-engagement strategies will give you an invaluable foundation for reducing churn out of your nonprofit’s giving program.

But you should also take steps to address some root causes of disengagement. In many cases, churn is driven by a lack of diverse engagement opportunities. If you only ever ask your donors to make gifts and/or don’t take steps to actively promote your other activities and programs, it’s unsurprising that they might begin feeling disengaged or unvalued.

The main idea is to simply make sure your donors have more ways to engage with your nonprofit than making donations. Give them plenty of ways to stay involved over the long run, including:

  • Volunteering opportunities, both online and in-person when possible
  • A variety of events in different formats—virtual, in-person, or hybrid (when safe in your nonprofit’s community)
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising opportunities, including both timebound campaigns and DIY-style giving pages to activate social donors of all types
  • Robust and engaging social media strategies that are interactive and multimedia-based

You’ll also need to ensure that your donors are actually made aware of these opportunities. After all, an exciting event or social media contest isn’t worth much for your retention efforts if your donors don’t know about it.

Wrapping Up

By building on these tips and backing them up with solid AI-driven data insights, you can continually improve your regular giving program’s churn and retention numbers over time.

You’ll just need to be proactive and then carefully track your results. Which re-engagement strategies work well? Which fall flat? How is your retention rate changing over time? A robust CRM platform that integrates with your various engagement outlets (and AI software!) will make it easy to answer questions like these.

But don’t forget—you can ask donors for their direct feedback, too. Once you’ve re-engaged an at-risk donor, try sending them a survey to learn more about how they like to engage with your mission and what types of messages are the most meaningful to them.

The biggest takeaway: There’s no reason why nonprofits should treat donor churn as an unavoidable reality. There are plenty of direct steps you can take and systems you can put in place to get ahead of churn rather than simply react to it. AI and smarter communication and engagement strategies will help you get there.

This post was contributed by Chris Paver, COO, Dataro.

Chris is the COO of Dataro, joining the team as a business partner in 2018. Chris has a wealth of experience from the world of commercial law, where he specialized in advising technology, media and high-growth businesses across the full spectrum of strategic, commercial and regulatory issues. As COO, Chris has helped drive Dataro’s rapid growth in the nonprofit sector.

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