“Why Donor Retention is so Important to our Organization and How We Approach It”

Our approach to donor loyalty is multi-faceted. We use direct mail and social media including blogs, Twitter and Facebook to stay in close contact with our donors. We also have an incredible network of volunteers who operate as our representatives at the parish level around the U.S. As external points of engagement with Episcopal Relief & Development, they speak to people in churches on our behalf, talking about our work and the impact we are making around the world in the hopes of attracting new donors and new champions. We can’t thank our network of volunteers enough.  Showing our donors we operate efficiently and providing complete financial transparency is also important in developing and maintaining our donors’ trust.

Because of the nature of our work, there is a strong faith component that motivates our donors to give. Our mission builds a relatable, compelling case to heal our hurting world and is taken directly from the Bible (Matthew 25:37):

“Lord, when was it that 

We saw you hungry and gave you food?

We saw you thirsty and gave you something to drink?

We saw you a stranger and welcomed you?

We saw you sick and took care of you?

We saw you in prison and visited you?

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Our messaging puts donors at the center of the action, giving them the ability to bring about meaningful change in the world, helping communities pull themselves out of poverty, remain healthy, thrive economically and build hope for the future.

We welcome new donors with a special mailing to introduce them to our organization. Subsequently, our direct response program includes a variety of communications including appeals, newsletters, a renewal series, loyalty mailings, monthly-giving solicitations and planned giving opportunities.

This year, we are celebrating our 75th anniversary with a special anniversary campaign: “Celebrate 75 Years of Healing a Hurting World.” Campaign components include:

  • An invitation to learn about our programs and what we’ve done for the last three quarters of a century through a special section on our website. 
  • An opportunity to receive “75 stories in 75 weeks,” which tell how lives are transformed through our shared abundance. (The goal here is to keep people engaged in our work over time.)
  • A call-out to our Facebook page where we share campaign updates and other stories about what our donors are doing on their own to celebrate the 75th anniversary.
  • A travelling photo exhibition in various churches in cities around the U.S. featuring images of the work we’ve done for the past 75 years that people can view in person. 
  • An enhanced e-commerce section of our website that allows donors to contribute toward one of five specific funds that support our core programs.

To cultivate mid-level donors, we use a specific strategy that includes mailing upgraded packages with special messaging and first class postage. We’ve also promoted webinars to this audience to help them learn more about our organization and our response to specific events such as the Haiti earthquake and the cyclone in the Philippines.

Our major donor program secures the larger five, six or seven figure gifts. We have two major gift officers who schedule regular visits around the country to meet directly with major donors. Each officer builds a relationship by staying in direct communication with these donors through face-to-face meetings, email, phone calls and snail mail. And, of course, these officers or our president make personal calls to major donors to thank them whenever a large gift is made. Our major donors are NOT included in our general mail stream of direct marketing appeals; instead we have a specific, targeted cultivation strategy for them. No matter the level of donation, the importance of a timely “thank you” cannot be underestimated and we send acknowledgments as quickly as possible.

How do we measure donor retention success? At the most basic level, we define it by how many first time donors give a second or third gift. That second gift from a donor is probably the hardest gift to get. First gifts are often disaster related, but since disaster relief is only one part of our work, the key for us is to use the right combination and amount of stewardship and messaging to compel donors to go beyond their first gift and support our core programs. We know first-hand that if donations are handled quickly and accurately, yet sensitively and with respect, donors appreciate it and will tell others why they’ve chosen to support us.

One of the biggest enhancements to our donor retention has been outsourcing a vast majority of our donation processing and acknowledgment fulfillment to Merkle Response Management Group. Merkle Response operates as an extension of our organization, quickly and accurately handling our varying mail volume and complicated processes, and allowing us the time and space to focus on other duties.

Merkle Response is able to ramp up staff gradually as we head toward the fourth quarter each year when we receive about 40% of our annual donations. They are also able to ramp up quickly during times of emergencies like the Haiti Earthquake, Hurricane Sandy in the U.S. and Cyclone Haiyan in the Philippines. And when Nepal experienced the recent devastating earthquake, Merkle Response reached out to us to proactively coordinate their plans and to rapidly prepare for the expected increase in mail donations that would follow. Merkle Response has been our steady partner for more than seven years and plays a key part in our efforts to cultivate long-term relationships with our donors.

If you have questions about how the right donation processing and fulfillment partner can help you strengthen your organization’s donor retention, take Merkle Response’s free on-line assessment at merkleresponse.com/donorretention.