Imagine you’re tasked with improving donor retention for your organization’s direct response program. This is fun because retention is the elephant in the room at every quarterly department meeting, right? It’s the thing no one wants to focus on and it’s the thing that everyone MUST focus on.

So you’re the parent in the room whose job it is to break up the “let’s talk about fun things like great photos and subject lines!” party and get the kids to do their homework – the stuff that matters – like answering the question, “How do we get donors to keep giving?”

Keeping donors interested and engaged takes work and investment (gasp!) and can be difficult to measure success. Is it any wonder no one wants to talk about it?

But retention is the most important indicator of your file’s health, so investing time and resources in building retention is vital.

Years ago, the “just mail more” strategy worked well enough for most organizations to achieve decent retention rates without too much effort. But now, factors like fewer donors, financial uncertainty, higher production costs, and increased competition for donor dollars all necessitate a concentrated focus on retaining the donors you’ve already acquired.

If “just mail more” is no longer working, how can we improve our retention rates?

Let’s start by looking at what affects donor retention in the first place.

What’s the number one factor that influences donor retention?

The second gift!

The folks at Bloomerang call this “the golden donation,” because if you can get it, your multi-year retention rates improve dramatically.

With that gift, the donor is demonstrating a desire to support your mission beyond what may have initially been an impulse, a premium, a tribute, or even a special event. Later in this series, we’ll get into how to get that second gift but today, I’d like to turn your attention towards a little-known factor in improving retention: Timing.

The timing of the second gift. And, in this case, the sooner, the better is an understatement.

The graph below is from the Analytical Ones blog (The Exponential Importance of Second Gift Timing) and clearly demonstrates the importance of securing that golden donation as quickly as possible.

Graph from Analytical Ones blog post 'The Exponential Importance of Second Gift Timing'

Each bar represents the 5-year value of a donor based on how quickly their second gift is acquired.

As you can see, single givers aren’t worth a whole lot.

If we wait a year to ask again, their lifetime value (LTV) is half of what it would be had they given again in the first 180 days.

We must focus on acquiring not just the first gift but that second gift as well and we need to move quickly in doing so.

We’ll talk about how to make this happen in our next post. In the meantime, send me your thoughts! My email is – let’s talk!