Thursday, February 22, 2007

Donors: Keep Them, Get Them Back, Acquire Them

With the last pledge drives of the fiscal year just ahead, stations are starting to calculate how many total donors they are likely to have at year’s end. The number is often smaller than last year’s and so I get calls asking for advice on how to get more new members during the pledge drive.

The problem is that a lack of new givers is often the smallest contributing factor to shrinking donor databases. Most stations are seeing declining retention rates and/or fewer lapsed donors coming back as annual givers. By framing the issue in terms of new givers, stations are setting themselves up for failure.

Growing a donor base works just like growing any customer base. Current customers are the most likely to be next year’s customers and the cheapest to keep. The next most “profitable” segment is previous customers who just don’t do business with us as frequently as we’d like. The most expensive and most difficult customer to get is one who has never done business with us before.

Relying primarily on new givers to grow the donor base is folly. That might have worked when audiences were growing at a double-digit rate, but it won't do as audiences stagnate or shrink. Stations won't grow their donor bases without improving their retention or reacquisition rates because new donors will be harder to come by and they will simply fall through the cracks in the following year.

This, by the way, is the same reason many stations fail to grow their audiences. They think marketing and advertising is the answer to audience growth without fixing the programming that drives current listeners away from the station. In this way, growing the donor base and growing audiences are the same.

We grow audiences by getting current listeners to tune-in more frequently. By giving them lots of good reasons to tune in throughout the week, we keep them in the weekly Cume. The same is true for donors. By giving them lots of good reasons throughout the year to give, we keep them in the annual donor base.

Sometimes listeners tune-in every 8 or 10 days and fall out of the weekly Cume. They are "Lapsed Cumers." Fixing the programming to get them listening every 4 or 5 days gets them back in the Cume. Sometimes donors give every 14 or 20 months and fall out of the annual donor count. They are "Lapsed Donors." Fixing the fundraising program to get them to give every 7 or 10 months gets them back in the annual donor count. And when the program is fixed, any newly acquired listeners or donors are less likely to fall through the cracks. That's the first step to growth.

Waiting until the last pledge drive of the fiscal year to address a shrinking donor base is a bad strategy. More than likely, holes have to be fixed in the overall donor program to grow the database. When it comes to donors, stations need to prioritize by first keeping current donors, getting lapsed donors back, and then acquiring new givers.

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