When groups brainstorm about effective fundraising strategies, there is often one critical component that is left out: donor retention. Because students and volunteers are cyclical, donor retention is rarely addressed in high-school fundraising campaigns. But that’s beginning to change. Building loyalty that leads to retention is a key feature of having a successful fundraiser every time.

How Are We Doing?

In a nutshell, donor retention needs a little work. Research shows that donor retention is about 43 percent, with first-time donor retention only at 19 percent. How much money is being left on the table? For every $100, an estimated $95 is lost through attrition. What can you do to change this trend and boost the success of future fundraising efforts for your school? Here are four strategies to increase your donor retention:

Think Beyond The Initial Sale

Whether your fundraiser involves merchant books, discount cards, booster cards, or a straight-forward pledge drive with promotional gifts, it’s imperative to include an engagement strategy that will keep your donors coming back each year.

Each fundraiser you hold should be looked at as a step in a long-term relationship and not as a one-time financial transaction. In fact, the term retention is kind of a cold, unfeeling term. Instead, focus on the term relationship. Cultivating a relationship with donors will result in a fundraiser that continues to
grow. Don’t make the mistake of starting from scratch each year. How can schools accomplish this?

  • Choose fundraisers that lend themselves to retention. Selling gourmet popcorn or candy can make some money, but it doesn’t really produce the kind of loyal customers you want. You might raise funds, but you are basically starting from scratch every time you fundraiser.
  • Cultivate loyalty by offering items of value. Fundraisers like merchant ticket and play books cultivate loyalty. Local businesses choose to sponsor your merchant book by offering valuable coupons or discounts. Then, families, neighbors, and other community members purchase the merchant books, yielding discounts for themselves and the satisfaction of supporting the school and local businesses. The business sponsors get the benefit of visibility and new customers. When both groups see the value, they’ll want to participate year after year, enabling your fundraiser to grow exponentially.

Give Personal Follow-Up

If you pitch your fundraiser by telling your potential sponsors and donors that you are raising money for a specific cause, take the time to follow up and to let them know that they are important to your cause. It establishes a feeling of loyalty that will encourage merchants to participate the next year. This is an achievable goal for schools and fundraisers of all sizes. Here’s how to do it efficiently:

  • Collect contact information from your merchants, and be sure to include their email address in your data collection.
  • Once the fundraiser has closed, send a personal note informing the merchant that her sponsorship made a difference. Say something like, “

<School Name> was able to reach our goals of raising $5,000 to buy new uniforms for our soccer team this year, thanks to your contribution. Thank you!

  • Ask for feedback through a quick survey. Ask how their business benefited from the sponsorship. What could be done to provide more benefit in the future? This valuable input will improve your future fundraisers and build a relationship with the merchant. They will feel like their sponsorship was appreciated and that the feedback is valued.

The same personal attention can be applied to schools that rely on donor cash gifts, though the follow-up strategy should be slightly modified:

  • Promptly send a donor thank you card on your school’s custom stationery. Invest in an engagement strategy that allows you to track donor data, so your notes can be as personal as possible.
  • Go beyond just knowing the donor’s name. Acknowledge the amount and the specific fundraiser they gave to. Use this information to identify issues that are important to that person.

Instead of making an appeal each time your school is looking for a sponsor, solicit that person when you are working on a cause you know they are passionate about. For example, flag a local sporting goods store that donated to your athletic team. Instead of bombarding them with appeals for other causes, only target them for athletic-related fundraisers. As budget allows, think about designing a unique donor packages for substantial donors. Include practical promotional items that will keep your school on the donor’s mind throughout the year.

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Stay Engaged Online

An effective online strategy will do two important things: it will keep volunteers up-to-date and it will help you connect with more donors and sponsors. If your school is selling merchant tickets, update your volunteers and merchants through your social media account.

Post something like, “We’re halfway to our $5,000 goal. Thank you to our gold merchant sponsors [include list] and our top student sellers this week [include list].” You have accomplished several goals through this simple social media post:

  • You’ve given your top sponsors and top sellers some recognition. You’re encouraging the top volunteers to keep selling to hold their spot and prompting others to work harder.
  • Your merchants are thrilled for the additional free advertising. You’re helping them see value, increasing the odds that they’ll want to participate next year.
  • All participants will feel like they are part of something big. They are contributing to the greater good.

Don’t forget to include a photo of your top contributors. Add even more encouragement by showcasing promotional gifts they qualify for.

Treat Donors Like People

Do you feel loyal to a friend who only contacts you when she needs something? It’s doubtful. No one wants to feel used or undervalued, including your fundraising donors.

Establish points of contact that don’t involve asking for donations: send donors a newsletter, updates on the school’s progress, invitations to community events, or volunteer opportunities available. For schools, most of your donors are parents, grandparents, and close friends of your kids. They have a vested interest in staying up-to-date and will most likely welcome your engagement efforts.

Think beyond the initial sale. Engage and develop relationships that will result in donors who will be with you for at least as long as their student is with you—and ideally, even longer.

You know what your school can do, so you can target your donor audience best. Develop a creative fundraising strategy that incorporates engaging your most valuable volunteers, sponsors, and donors. Retain the spirit of giving and volunteerism and keep building momentum year after year.