If you’re like me, just seeing the word unforgettable gets the Nat King Cole tune rolling in your head.  If you’ve not heard it, google it… I promise, it’ll stick with you.  Why am I rambling about Nat King Cole?

Because I want your organization to be unforgettable in the minds of your donors.

Currently the fundraising sector is abuzz with articles, conferences, webinars and research on donor retention.  All of it suggests charities are doing a terrible job of keeping their donors.

In his new book, Retention Fundraising, sector guru Roger Craver reports “the national average of non-profit retention rates is only 41 percent.”  Put another way, this means, on average, for every 10 donors a charity has, they’re keeping 4 and losing 6.

Forgettable?  Yes, it seems we are.

How do you compare?  Are you unforgettable?  How do you know?  And why does it matter?

If you’re unforgettable, donors know you, they recognize your brand and feel like they’re part of your ‘cause family’.  They’re proud to be a member of your tribe.  They have ‘experiences’ with you.  They care.  They give regularly.  They call or write.  They give more if they’re able and if they’re asked appropriately.  They participate and attend.  They tell you things and will invest the time and energy to have a conversation.  That ‘conversation’ might be responding to a survey, calling to share their thoughts about something you’ve done (some would view this as a complaint), asking a question or anything that takes your relationship from simple transaction to engagement.

I currently work with a hospital charity who run a year-end campaign to remember loved ones by lighting a bulb on the trees outside of their hospital at Christmastime.  Due to a data processing glitch at the mail house, a group of donors didn’t receive the mailing.  Many of those donors called the Foundation to say they wanted to give as they had been doing in years past, and why didn’t they get a mailing?  This is a simple example of being unforgettable.

A friend of mine mentioned to me that she has allowed for a gift in her will to a charity I work with.  I asked her what motivated her to do that.  Her dad had recently passed away and she was his only heir.  She has very little other family.  Her dad was an ardent supporter of this charity, partly due to his ancestry and roots.  He had talked with her about his wishes for their family support to be carried on.  And so it has been, and will be upon my friend’s passing. Unforgettable.

How do you know how well you’re doing at being unforgettable?

Basic key performance metrics are a good measure and a good place to start.  Every charity should know their year over year retention and attrition rates, renewal rates for various segments, revenue growth, average giving, gift frequency, donation increase or decrease and long-term value. Data audits and donor giving reports that crunch your data into useable benchmarks are a wise investment.

Donor feedback is another good measure.  This can include anything from anecdotal comments that come out of conversations or phone calls with donors, survey/questionnaire responses and information collected through focus groups.  On a fundamental level, if you aren’t having conversations with donors, that’s a clue that you’re forgettable.

How do you achieve unforgettable?

  • Arm yourself with knowledge – read and learn about retention methods and analysis, and put that information to work;
  • Collect your organization’s ‘unforgettable’ stories of caring, commitment, concern, generosity and experiences – share them with staff, board members, donors and the community;
  • Treat donors with respect – all donors, all the time – thank them quickly and appropriately, be accountable in stewarding their gifts, provide top notch donor service and communications;
  • Ask well – be specific about where the money goes and who it will help, take donors ‘there’ (whether your ‘there’ is a poverty stricken village in Africa or a hospital operating room down the street) to maximize the donor’s ‘making a difference’ experience;
  • Be passionate – fundraisers and charities are the conduit between donors and the cause – donors will be inspired if you’re passionate about your work.

Make 2015 the year to begin your quest for unforgettable.  And please, share your unforgettable stories with me – I’d love to hear from you!