sandcastle shutterstock_308626721“Bees will buzz, kids will blow dandelion fuzz, and I’ll be doing whatever snow does in summer….”  I just love that song. With two little girls at home, I am VERY familiar with the song “In Summer” from the movie Frozen.

Thinking of summertime activities as Labor Day nears, I want to paint a picture for you. Pretend you want to build a large sandcastle on the beach; in order to do this you need a bucket, sand, and water. Your bucket needs to be solid to sustain the weight of the sand and the water. Each time you fill the bucket and use its contents, the sandcastle can get bigger and bigger. Also, the more water you have the harder it is for the individual grains of sand to fall out.

While many numbers are important to fundraising, I want to focus on donor retention. Let’s tie these two things together. The sandcastle you are building represents the services your organization provides; the sand, your donors; and the water, their donations. The bucket is your fundraising program. The more solid your fundraising program, the more donors you can “carry.” If your fundraising program has holes, donors will fall right out of the program. The rate at which they fall out depends on how big the holes are.

There are two things that allow for more sand to be added to the bucket – acquiring new donors and reactivating lapsed donors. Once donors get added to the bucket, you want to keep as many as you can, by getting them to continually donate year after year; otherwise, they will spill outside of the bucket and could be lost forever. We work with clients all the time helping them to determine how well they are keeping sand in their bucket.

This is one of those things that must be carefully monitored. You could have a stellar acquisition program, but donors could fall right through your bucket and to the ground if you aren’t watching your retention rate. I feel like I say this all the time, but in order to keep the holes as small as possible, you have to make sure that you have a good acknowledgment program that includes at least a soft ask to prompt donors to give again. You also need to make sure that you are mailing your donors regularly. If you don’t ask, they won’t give… certainly not as much or as often. You also have to make sure that you are working to re-engage donors before they become lapsed. This could be through a telemarketing campaign or personal direct mail piece; any number of things may work.

The important thing is to make sure that you are bringing in or re-engaging more donors each year than have lapsed. You want the sand in the bucket to grow each year and not just run out the bottom of the bucket. If you don’t achieve this year after year, then over time your mission will fail due to lack of donors and funding. In addition to all the other numbers you must know, make sure retention rate is one that you know very well. Check to see if it is improving year over year. We want everyone out there building big, beautiful sandcastles this summer and beyond!

Traci Prantner is a Business Development Strategist at Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. For more information about donor retention and reactivation, contact us at Subscribe to our newsletter here. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.