About Bill Sayre

Bill Sayre is the president of Merkle Response Management Group, a full-service direct response processing and fulfillment company that works with nonprofits including Operation Smile and the Heritage Foundation. Bill has over 20 years’ experience in remittance processing, and all of his operational facilities have received awards and recognition for world-class results and operational innovations.

Increase the Perennials in Your Nonprofit Garden – Four Ways to Better Manage Donors and Improve Retention

Nonprofit Donor Retention TipsAs we enter spring, gardens are growing and blooming thanks to the efforts of their caretakers. While many include both perennial and annual blossoms, the daisies, peonies and roses that come up year after year truly offer a beautiful return on investment for gardeners. For nonprofits, this brings to light similarities with donors and donor care.

While your nonprofit garden is undoubtedly populated with annual and perennial donors, caring for those that come back year after year is especially important. Typically about three out of four first-time donors will turn out to be like annual plants, only giving once. To maximize the impact of fundraising efforts, nonprofits need to focus on donor retention and making every donor a perennial donor.

When it comes to donor retention, it is essential that nonprofits understand the vital importance of the back end of donation processing. In order to grow, nurture and sustain donor relationships, nonprofits need to take immediate steps after a gift is made. Here are four ways that the back end of donation processing can help your organization improve donor retention:

Nurture Donor Relationships with Appreciation

Just as gardens need water and fertilizer to thrive, donor relationships need appreciation. The power of acknowledgement lies in the backend of donation processing. Showing appreciation can come in many forms and should be appropriate for the donor’s level of engagement. Thank you letters are an important first step for all donors, and they need to be carefully tailored to take into account donor attributes, from gift size to specific campaigns or reasons for giving. Thank you calls can make a big impact as well, even leading to a 40 percent increase in donor retention, as revealed in Penelope Burk’s Donor Centered Fundraising.

Whether showing appreciation through the phone, email or direct mail, it is critical that acknowledgements are timely, meaningful and personalized. Actively illustrating to a donor how their gift makes a difference helps cultivate a first time donor into a perennial supporter.

Acknowledge Individual Care Needs and Add a Personal Touch Via the Call Center

Fundraising Tips - Donor RetentionPlants have different soil, sun and watering needs, and donor care needs to be personalized as well. The call center is the perfect place to make this happen. Many Merkle RMG clients have seen more than a 50% increase in subsequent response rates from implementing outbound thank you calling programs. Contact centers offer an opportunity to make real connections with donors through human-to-human conversations. The ability to appeal to donor emotions and share the impact of a gift in terms of a donor’s specific reason for giving can generate additional donations and increase giving amounts

At the same time, call centers can help address donor challenges, bringing wilting relationships back to life. Call centers allow nonprofits to respond to feedback from unhappy donors and resolve the challenges they’re having with a nonprofit in a way that may encourage continued donations. Often, busy nonprofits receive a response requesting to remove a prospective donor from a mailing list, and rather than explore the issue further, donors are quickly removed. However, by utilizing the call center, the nonprofit may discover that perhaps what the donor really needs is for the method or frequency of correspondence to change, preventing a lost donor by effectively responding to such requests.

Protect Your Garden: Ramp Up Security Efforts

Gardeners know they need to keep plants safe from insects and animals if they expect them to grow, just as nonprofits know donor information must be protected. Trust is critical to maintaining donor relationships and this starts by physically and virtually securing donor information.

Building a secure virtual environment can be achieved through basic data security practices, such as firewall, antivirus, or intrusion detection software. As many donations come in via credit card, following the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council’s (PCI SSC’s) standards for processing credit card information is important. PCI offers a framework through its Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), which takes a comprehensive look at security and can ensure credit card information is properly handled and protected.

Physical surveillance and reliance on trusted employees are also key in locations where donor data and donations are handled. This means maintaining 24/7/365 video surveillance, GPS tracking on donation-carrying vehicles and background checks on individuals handling payments.

From the start, establish trust between the donor and your organization by safeguarding payments and personal information so potential issues are minimized. As a result, donors will be more likely to make a long-term commitment to a nonprofit’s mission.

Give Donors Room to Grow Through Recurring Gift Programs

Fundraising Donor RetentionPlants need the right amount of room and flexibility to blossom – and so do donors. Sustainer programs are growing in popularity as they make giving easier for donors, while also ensuring a more reliable, predictable stream of funding for nonprofits. However, without the right back end support, these types of programs can quickly become frustrating for both parties.

Recurring gift programs should offer donors the flexibility to give whenever and however they choose, encouraging participation. Back end support also needs to account for common issues, like expiring credit cards, taking care of necessary updates without putting an additional burden on the nonprofit or letting planned donations lapse. Sustainer donors have many of the same needs as other donors, such as quick acknowledgement and being shown appropriate gratitude, but unfortunately these needs are occasionally overlooked in recurring giving programs. A stronger back end management solution can help prevent this from occurring, allowing sustainer programs to flourish.

What’s Next?

In order to move forward with your mission, nonprofits should remember that successful fundraising begins with the back end. When nurtured, first-time donors turn into long-term gift givers. With appropriate acknowledgement, call center utilization, security and recurring gift program management, nonprofits can improve donor retention and see their organizations flourish.

Setting the Table for Year End Donations: Keep Giving Going After #GivingTuesday

Donor Retention AdviceWhile it might seem like summer just ended, it is not too soon to start planning for Thanksgiving – and Giving Tuesday. While developing a unique and impactful Giving Tuesday campaign is essential to making the day a success, nonprofits also need to keep in mind the preparation and follow up that will lead to valuable, long-lasting donor relationships. So, this year as you make your Thanksgiving plans, take advantage of the holiday cheer and prepare your nonprofit’s table for new year-round giving traditions.

One Turkey Meal is Never Enough: Showing Gratitude Keeps Giving Tuesday Donors Coming Back for More

Just as it is important to make sure there is enough food for satisfying leftovers the day after Thanksgiving, nonprofits must ensure they have strong donor management and retention techniques in place to help carry Giving Tuesday donors into the next fundraising year. How a nonprofit proactively communicates with, engages and thanks donors can improve donor retention and impact lifetime donor value. Reaching out solely to show appreciation without asking for another gift makes donors feel valued and often results in increased giving over time. According to Penelope Burk in her book, Donor-Centered Fundraising, thanking a donor after their initial gift, can lead to a 40 percent increase in donor retention.

Regardless of whether a nonprofit makes thank you calls, sends letters or acknowledges gifts through email, they must make sure to include relevant and authentic information that is of interest to donors. Sharing stories that illustrate how their gift will make a difference shows donors their true impact. Additionally, it is important to make sure donors have a way to reach nonprofits with questions and feedback on their donation experience either over the phone or in a survey. Constructive feedback can improve an organization’s efforts and let donors know the nonprofit is listening.

Make Sure Your Table is Set & Ready for Extra Guests: Prepare and Educate Personnel for the Influx in Donations

No matter how much work you put into the turkey, Thanksgiving dinner won’t be a success without having enough food to satisfy your hungry guests. As Giving Tuesday grows in popularity, nonprofits need to prepare by having adequate staff resources on hand to support timely deposits of funds, accurate data capture and swift donor acknowledgement.

One way to ensure thorough preparation and eliminate some of the hassles of staff management is to outsource to a response management firm. Bringing in a third-party can provide the necessary support for the wild swing in donations, while freeing up nonprofit staff to focus on the organization’s mission…not only during the busy holiday season but throughout the year.

Beat the Black Friday Rush: Start Preparing a Process to Protect Donations and Donor Information

In order to properly handle the holiday rush, it is necessary to prepare early and thoroughly. During the holidays, increased retail traffic has led to notable security incidents – and nonprofits are vulnerable to the same threats. Trust is more crucial than anything in the effort to maintain and nurture donor relationships, so nonprofits must be able to ensure that donor gifts and information remain secure during the busy holiday season.

Physical security is the most important aspect of protecting donor information. Complete 24/7/365 surveillance is critical for safeguarding donations and donor information; this includes security cameras, GPS technology for mail movement from the post office to the processing facility, and photo ID badges and background checks for all staff. Next comes data security. Data security software including firewalls, antivirus software, spam, spyware, and data-loss prevention software can track where threats originate and make it easier to combat issues if they do occur.

In addition to adopting these security processes, nonprofits need to be compliant with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). PCI DSS guidelines can help nonprofits and their donation processors ensure they are securely handling credit card gifts. They provide a framework for prevention, detection and reaction to security incidents.

By preparing for the aftermath of Giving Tuesday now, nonprofits can have holiday gift processing and acknowledgment programs, security measures and the appropriate resources in place come December 1to help ensure donating to your organization is an ongoing tradition for first-time givers.

As a helpful resource, we encourage you to take Merkle Response Management Group’s donor retention assessment to determine if your nonprofit is ready to retain lifelong donors this holiday season.

The Power of Acknowledgement – Three Elements of Donor Retention

Donor Retention - Fundrasing AdviceWhat is your philanthropy’s superpower? Every nonprofit has powers, but the most important one that eludes many organizations is the power of donor retention. Unfortunately many nonprofits expect to lose more than 60 percent of donors after their first donation.

It is time to take on high first-time donor attrition rates and secure donor loyalty. Studies show that over the long term, retaining 10 percent more of first-time donors can lead to a 200 percent lifetime return. Here are three nonprofit powers to help improve donor retention and turn one-time donors into life-long supporters:

Efficient Donation Processing and Acknowledgement

When a new donor makes a contribution they may feel they have fulfilled their duty to support your cause. Yet the power of speed – efficient donation processing and meaningful acknowledgement – encourages them to come back. Supporters expect timely, accurate and efficient processing of their donations. Whether outsourced or handled in-house, it is critical that donations are managed with care and precision.

Cutting edge technology can allow nonprofits to process donations faster and more accurately, allowing quicker donor acknowledgement. Automated mail extraction and high-speed scanning equipment helps minimize processing costs, while searchable web-based document image archive and retrieval systems allow donor inquiries about transactions to be researched more quickly and efficiently as well.

Saying Thank You

Once donations are processed, the next power to use is the strength of gratitude. A heartfelt thank you can help secure the second donation, turning a one-time donor into a life-long supporter. To super charge a thank you letter, nonprofits should personalize it to make it more meaningful. Nonprofits can do this by using the donor’s name, referencing the specific campaign that they responded to, discussing how their donation will be used, and even acknowledging repeat donors’ past gifts. Follow-up communications and solicitations can discuss more specifically how funds were used to make a difference. For example, if they gave in response to the recent earthquake in Nepal, specific information on the relief that was delivered and its impact can be provided along with an ask for an additional gift to continue the efforts or to have funds available for immediate use when the next disaster strikes.

Saying thank you doesn’t need to be limited to mail. Follow up calls are another way to say thank you that can make a significant impact on a donor and ensure their first time giving isn’t their last. Calls are easy to personalize and can truly show donors the importance of their contributions. Thanking donors via follow up calls strengthens donor relationships and leads to higher rates of donor retention, in addition to more frequent giving and larger gifts.

Whether saying thank you with a hand written note, a call, on social media, or through a video, nonprofits can make donors feel like superheroes by focusing on what they helped the organization to accomplish. It is the joy that comes from hearing the difference they made that encourages donors to stay involved.

Donation Security

Nonprofits are also responsible for keeping donors and their personal information safe, both physically and in the cyber world. By protecting donors in a world of breaches and identity fraud, nonprofits can safeguard valuable donor relationships.

Nonprofits can build trust through physical security of donor funds and information. A first step is to implement a 24/7/365 surveillance system to safeguard donations and donor information in the facility where donations will be processed. Additionally, tracking of the vehicles used to transport the mail from the post office to the donation processing facility should be used.

Once donors and their contributions are physically safe, nonprofits can focus on the cyber-sphere, starting with the basics. One of the first steps is ensuring standard data security software like firewalls, antivirus software, spam and spyware, data-loss prevention software and intrusion detection software are in place. Data encryption is also essential. End-to-end encryption should be used on all inbound and outbound data files creating another obstacle for hackers.

Additionally, all organizations that deal with donor credit card information should be Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant, ensuring credit card information is being handled appropriately and securely. PCI DSS provides a framework for data security that covers prevention, detection and reaction to security incidents, holistically safeguarding donor information.

These security elements are critical to maintaining your nonprofit’s reputation with both first-time and life-long donors. Having the strength and ability to protect donors creates a sense of trust.

Donors can be a nonprofit’s biggest believers or their kryptonite. These three elements of donor retention – efficient donation processing and acknowledgement, appropriate donor recognition and robust security – can help retain new donors and make them feel like superheroes. As a helpful resource, we encourage you to take our donor retention assessment to discover your nonprofit’s retention opportunities.

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