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How to Prevent Donor Churn: 6 Tips for Talking to Donors

“One and done” may be great for completing a task, but when it comes to donations, this phrase translates into donor churn, the bane of nonprofit leaders.

When donors choose to donate once or twice and call it a day, they cause nonprofits to spend precious time acquiring someone to fill those spots instead of growing the donor base. The same is true with a donor who’s given consistently for a period of time and then chooses to stop. Nonprofits can’t grow and reach their mission goals without a high donor retention rate.

In short, donor churn is:

• Difficult to confront
• Crucial to understand
• Manageable with the right strategies

Dive In & Look Around

Before you can move toward resolution, you must know the depth and roots of the problem. It’s good to begin with your organization’s rate of donor churn vs. donor retention. What percentage gave only once? How many give for a year, then stop? Are they coming from a certain geographic area or segment of the population? Do they know the impact of their contributions?

Answers to these questions can be effective in guiding strategies for turning churn into retention. From there, determine whether the donors in question: 

• Have financial issues
• Question the impact/value of their gifts
• Desire more or fewer communications
• Feel unappreciated

Unpacking the Elements That Lead to Donor Churn

Finances

Consider whether the donor is facing a financial bind. If so, it’s important to approach them with empathy and support. You may want to offer to pause their monthly gift for the next few months, expressing your willingness to accommodate their situation. Assure the donor you value their commitment and would appreciate the opportunity to check back with them when their financial situation improves. This demonstrates understanding and reinforces the relationship, thereby keeping the door open for future contributions and preventing long-term donor churn.

Impact/Value

Another common concern for donors is uncertainty about their impact on your organization’s mission. To address this, take the initiative to reach out. Call or email them with specific accomplishments and successes credited to their ongoing generosity. Use numbers, examples, and stories to make them proud to be donors and inspire them to act. Assure them their money has changed lives.

Going forward, be proactive in retaining donors by effectively distributing impact reports, social media, and emails highlighting the tangible outcomes and positive changes their support has enabled. Help them recognize their significant role in advancing your organization’s mission.

These are effective strategies for nurturing the nonprofit/donor relationship. A constructive way to do this is by using the Storybrand framework, in which each success points back to your donors as the heroes who are changing the world, one community at a time. 

Assess Contacts

Communication plays a vital role in preventing donor churn. Evaluate whether you communicate too often or too little with a specific donor. Utilize your nonprofit CRM to personalize and adjust the frequency and content of your communications accordingly.

At Social Impact Solutions, our team can help you easily achieve this by providing clear communication strategies and insightful impact metrics that boost donor retention. Each donor is different, and some may appreciate more regular updates, while others prefer less frequent contact. Tailoring your approach based on their preferences demonstrates that you value their individual needs and preferences.

If you want to improve your donor churn issues, start by taking our free fundraising quiz to learn how to quickly change your donor relationship strategy. 

Express Gratitude

Who doesn’t love a heartfelt “thank you?” Let your donors know how much you appreciate their gift, no matter the amount. Whether it’s an email, call, or handwritten note, it will make them feel valued, which goes a long way toward fostering retention.

Try a few different ways of saying thank you. A multichannel fundraising approach is ideal because you are more likely to connect with your donors through their preferred channel. Also, gratitude doesn’t and shouldn’t be limited to donation follow-ups. It can be expressed at other times of the year, like holidays. 

Remember, effective donor retention requires a proactive and personalized approach, made easier by using the data insights a nonprofit CRM, like Virtuous, can provide. With actionable insights on one customizable dashboard, nonprofits can streamline donor management so teams can focus on what matters.  

A Donor Script That Can Help Prevent Donor Churn

Let’s imagine you are able to have a conversation with a donor who is on the verge of churning. This could be an in-person conversation over coffee, a video call, an email, a text message, or anything. 

Here’s how we would suggest opening the conversation. 

You:

“Hi {first name}, I’m so glad we were able to connect. It’s been too long since we last spoke! I wanted to update you on the impact your donations are making through {your nonprofit’s program}. 

To date, we have been able to {insert relevant output metrics, like ‘provide 5,000 students with scholarships’} and we are seeing improved {insert outcome metrics relevant to your program}. 

I’m not sure if anyone has had the chance to personally thank you, but I wanted you to know that your donations are changing lives and making a real difference.”

Pro tip #1: Gauge Donor Interest

Give your donor a chance to respond and gauge their interest in continuing to support your organization. 

“I know it’s been a little while since you gave to {organization name}. I’d love to know if {insert cause} is something you are still passionate about supporting.”

Pro tip #2: Listen to Prevent Donor Churn

This is where you LEARN. Let your donors tell you all the reasons why they do or do not want to continue supporting your organization. Don’t be afraid—be curious and listen closely. There are many reasons why donors stop giving, and it’s up to you to learn why. 

Here’s how to respond:

  • Repeat their reasoning for not giving to your organization.
  • Comment on why you understand their reason is important to them.
  • Dig deeper with follow-up questions. 

Example

Imagine that your donor is in a financial bind and tells you they cannot continue supporting your organization.

“I totally understand. It’s been a challenging few years for many people and I genuinely appreciate you being forthright with why you cannot give right now. Just to be sure I’m understanding, you want to continue supporting {our cause} but now is not a great time. Is that true?”

*Donor response*

“We will definitely pause your recurring gift, but would love to follow up with you next quarter if that’s okay. Would that be alright with you?”

*Donor response*

“I want to thank you so much for this conversation. Your partnership with {organization name} is extremely meaningful and has made a real impact in the world. You know that {organization name} is 100% focused on {nonprofit mission} and we cannot do it without dedicated partners like you. Do you know anyone else as driven and motivated as you in making an impact? If so, I’d love to meet them and introduce them to {nonprofit name}.” 

Pro Tip #3: Ask for Referrals

Encourage your donor to introduce you to at least three potential donors on the spot. Just because they need to pause their donation does not mean they want to stop supporting your organization with referrals. Give them the opportunity to continue making a difference!

 Pro Tip #4: Keep Your Data Clean

Update your nonprofit CRM immediately after this conversation to reach out to your existing donor next quarter and add your new leads immediately. If you’re using a donor management software like Virtuous, there are many automations that you can use to facilitate your donor management and follow-up process. 

Pro Tip #5: Communicate to Prevent Donor Churn

Ask your donor if they feel they understand the impact their donations are making on your organization. Tell them you want to better communicate the value they are making and that you will let your marketing team know immediately. 

Example:

Imagine your donor is unsure of the impact your nonprofit is making. They want to understand what you are doing with their money. This is a very common response.

“I know that financial management and making an impact are very important to you and that you deserve to understand how {nonprofit name} is managing your finances. First, I want to give you a high-level overview of the entire organization and then zoom in on how your donations are making a real impact.” 
  • Provide a breakdown of your programs and how they interrelate to creating maximum impact for your target constituents. 
  • If relevant: Inform your donors about how your fellow team members partner with volunteers to keep costs low and impact high.
  • Provide insightful updates on the program that the donor previously supported. Everyone knows donors like output metrics, but they love outcome metrics and stories of transformation even more. Outcome metrics are essential and tell your donors the impact and legacy they are leaving with their donations

Pro-Tip #6: Personalize

Most of the time, donors just want to know they matter and where they fit into the story your organization is telling. They need to know their donations are important and that they are not just one of thousands of people giving to the cause. This is why personalized outreach and communications are so important. If you have the ability to personalize your donor experience via your donor management software, we strongly recommend you do it.  

Conclusion: Build Better Relationships and Prevent Donor Churn

Taking the time to understand where each donor is coming from and addressing their concerns helps build trust, loyalty, and a long-lasting partnership. Nonprofits can overcome the challenges of donor churn by fostering open and empathetic communication. Prioritize donor understanding and support to ensure their continued engagement in your mission.

About the Author

Susan Miura uses writing and marketing skills to provide nonprofits with beneficial information to help them grow, while also conveying the value of services offered by Social Impact Solutions. Through social media posts, emails, and blogs, she helps clients communicate with donors in a way that is informative and inspires the continuation and growth of giving.  In this role, she uses her experience as a former journalist and public relations professional to creatively communicate clients’ success stories, impact, and goals, as well as share tips for expanding their organizations.    

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