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Retention Fundraising

Retention Fundraising

Roger Craver

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Retention Fundraising
The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life

by Roger M. Craver, 171 pp.

There are eight main reasons why donors stop supporting organizations.

Do you know them?

You will after reading Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life.

For three years, pioneering fundraiser Roger Craver immersed himself in a study of nonprofits in the U.S. and the U.K. 

His singular aim was to uncover why donors quit an organization and what can be done to make them stay.

Some quick figures show why Craver’s book on donor retention is timely:

If yours is a typical organization, you have a 60 to 70 percent chance of obtaining an additional gift from an existing donor. 

You have a 20 to 40 percent chance of obtaining an additional gift from a recently lapsed donor.

But you have less than a 2 percent chance of obtaining a gift from a prospect.

That bears repeating:

The average organization has less than a 2 percent chance of securing a gift from a prospect.

So one thing is glaringly obvious. The bulk of an organization’s fundraising expenditures should be aimed at strengthening relationships with existing donors, not in acquiring new givers (though there’s still a role for that, of course).

Through painstaking research, Craver has singled out the exact ways an organization can deepen donor commitment.

There are, he learned, seven key “drivers” that matter most to donors.

These “drivers” – ranging from meaningful appreciation to opportunities for authentic involvement - have a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Move your donors from low to high commitment, and their giving will increase dramatically.

Best of all, responding to what your donors want isn’t costly, as Craver shows in real-life examples. 

There’s gold in your current donors waiting to be mined. And in Retention Fundraising, Roger Craver has drawn a detailed map to those riches.

About the Author

The Wall Street Journal described him as “an assassin of all things right-wing.” The American Association of Political Consultants placed him in their Hall of Fame, and the Direct Marketing Association gave him their Lifetime Achievement Award.

Roger Craver is, in fact, a disruptor and challenger of the status quo. A pioneer in direct response fundraising in the 60’s, telemarketing in the ’70s, online information services in the ’80s, multi-channel fundraising and communication in the ’90s, and donor-designed strategies today, he brings an experienced and critical eye to the greatest problem faced by today’s nonprofits: donor retention.

Roger helped launch some of the household names in the nonprofit advocacy sector: Common Cause, Greenpeace, the National Organization for Women, World Wildlife Fund, Habitat for Humanity, and Amnesty International. He helped revitalize and grow older organizations—the ACLU, the NAACP, Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, League of Women Voters, Heifer Project International, and Planned Parenthood.

Roger has conducted capital and annual fundraising campaigns, advocacy and membership drives in the U.S., Canada and throughout Europe.

Table of Contents

PART 1: What Is Retention, and Why Is It Important?

1 Time for Change

2 Why the CFO Will Love You

3 Losing Donors Through the Leaky Bucket

4 Why Donors Leave

PART 2: Setting the Stage for Improved Retention

5 Confessions of a Fundraiser: Why I Changed

6 Thinking Differently to Improve Retention

7 Understanding Relationships

8 Eliminating Guesswork by Redefining Loyalty

9 Barriers to Retention

PART 3: The New Methodology and How to Increase Retention

10 Why Is Donor Attitude So Important?

11 What Experiences Really Matter to the Best Donors?

12 Identifying the Most Committed Donors

13 Putting the Survey Results to Work

14 Plan Your Retention Changes

PART 4: What to Do: Best Practices

15 Identifying Donor Experiences That Drive Commitment

16 The 7 Key Drivers of Donor Commitment

17 Best Practices for Delivering on Key Drivers for What to Communicate

18 Best Practices for Delivering on Key Drivers for How to Communicate

19 Easy Retention Wins for Everyone

PART 5: Do the Math

20 What’s Your Retention Rate and Why It Matters

21 Lifetime Value: The Ultimate Metric

22 How Do Lifetime Value and Retention Connect?

PART 6: Donor Retention Made Easy and Final Thoughts

23 Cliff Notes for Retention

24 Final Thoughts


This article is excerpted from Roger Craver's book, Retention Fundraising, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email us.

Time for Change

I’ll never forget the little old lady.

Early in my career I called on her to discuss the college’s plan for a new library, hoping she’d become a major contributor. She served tea and little cucumber sandwiches. We chatted amiably and then got down to business.

With great enthusiasm I showed her the architect’s schematics, explained why it was a sound idea to raze the old dorm that had stood for ninety years, and how attractive the new library would be in its place.

My confidence grew as she took it all in. She asked bright, incisive questions and didn’t wince when I suggested the amount of a gift that would represent her share of the project.

“Young man,” she said as I concluded, “I’m very impressed. But I won’t be contributing to this project.”

I was startled. “May I ask why not?”

“Well, you see, I’m all in favor of progress, but I’m absolutely opposed to change.”

All too many of our organizations are like that little old lady. We claim we’re in favor of income growth and a sustainable future. But in practice we ignore the huge fundraising changes that threaten both. We blithely continue doing the same old things, ignoring the eventual and inevitable day of reckoning.

Surprise! That day has already arrived. Year after year for the past decade, donor-retention rates have been sinking. Today they’re at an all-time low. In a 2013 study by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, only 65 of the 2,377 organizations surveyed had a retention rate over 70 percent! (Sadly, the study contained no profiles of the 65 high-retention organizations.)

That same study also found:

Flat Fundraising. Every $100 raised from new donors was offset by $100 in losses.

Negative growth in the number of donors. For every 100 donors acquired, 107 were lost through attrition.

Small organizations suffering most. On average, charities raising more than $500,000 lost $90 for every $100 raised. Those raising between $100,000 and $500,000 lost as much as they gained. And organizations raising $100,000 or less lost $110 for every $100 raised.

In brief, the days of the seemingly infinite pool of new donors available to quickly and inexpensively replace those who’ve stopped their support are long gone.

Today, as more and more donors abandon ship, the cost of replacing them has grown so great as to be no longer affordable for most nonprofits.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Consider this:

The average nonprofit has a 60–70 percent chance of obtaining additional contributions from existing donors; a 20–40 percent probability of securing a gift from a recently lapsed donor; but less than a 2 percent chance of receiving a gift from a prospect.

With these figures in tow, you’d think we’d be pouring the bulk of our marketing and fundraising dollars into retaining donors, rather than laying out large sums to acquire more and more new ones.

But sadly we’re not. Too many of our boards, CEOs, and fundraisers haven’t accepted the new reality of a world that’s never going to return to the good old days.

Fortunately, there is good news. There’s a proven process now for increasing donor retention—for plugging the holes in the bucket through which our donors are pouring.

This process outlined in this book is based on empirical evidence. By understanding and putting it to work, we can add tens of thousands or even millions of dollars to our organizations’ bottom lines.

All that’s required is adopting new mindsets, new metrics, and new methods—all of which we can learn quickly and start to apply immediately.