Claire Kerr On Donor Retention and Social Media

 clair kerr care2 fundraiisng superheroes
Social media is more than just a lead generation. 

It’s all about building a community of long-term relationships, focusing on both retention and acquisition. There is often a big emphasis on finding new donors and grow your following as quickly as you can, but taking care of the people who already follow you is so important. 

Donor retention means you’re focusing not only on leads but relationships and finding people who genuinely advocate for your work. Claire Kerr is a Social Media expert and knows how important retention is to fundraising. 

She is a Director at Care2 and a professor at George-Brown Colledge. She comes on the show to share her advice on: 
  • The importance of retention and building a community with social media
  • How to test and not be afraid of failing 
  • Building a social strategy when you’re low on time and/or resources, 
  • The biggest misconceptions nonprofits have about their donors on social media and how to avoid them 

Full Transcript

Today, we talk with Claire Kerr from Care2 on how to retain your donors using social media.

Hello and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sciscente, if you're not familiar with us at Driven. We are an all-in-one non-profit software platform here to help you raise funds and retain donors. We cover everything from volunteer, staff and donor management. We would love to hear you so reach out to us at

So what does it take to really make it online? Does it mean having a million followers on Instagram becoming the next viral TikTok sensation or increasing your conversion rate to a near-perfect score? The answer is really it depends.

There's never a one size fits all answer to measuring success. That could be something different for each organization. In order to retain your donors or find new donors, you really have to focus on building and fostering a community. This is where Clair Keer comes in. She is a social media extraordinaire who has helped nonprofits unlock their digital potential, by getting to the core of their strategy. She's the current director at Care2, an online petition platform and a professor at George Brown College here in Ontario.

Thank you so much for joining us.
Hi, nice to see you. So let's start at the beginning.
Nonprofits have to get donors into the door in order to fundraise. So how do they generate those leads with the first step?

OK, big question. And I know everybody is thinking about it a lot, especially we're recording this at the beginning of the year where you're kind of looking at what's my future roadmap? What can I expect in terms of donations? You're doing your own benchmarking. And of course, if you are looking at getting donors in, you want to go back to the top of the funnel and see, like, who would be my leads in that pipeline. But before you get donors, you have to get supporters.

So an essential element of lead generation is creating that affinity match between you, what you offer, what your organization has to offer and what your supporters are actually interested in or what potential new supporters are interested in. So without supporters, you don't have engagement opportunities, let alone donation opportunities. You don't have advocates volunteer. So you don't have people who could support you in inclined ways, let alone donations. So what I find is that for some fundraisers are people who are new to the sector.

They tend to jump to how do I get how do we generate needs to get donors and are not thinking about how do I get more supporters and more engaged community members. So if you're sort of just like, how do I get a donation? Looking for a cheque, put all your resources into grant writing or something like that, which is different than growing a community of supporters. So the heart of that question is, if I want to find more people who care about us, you have to find a way to identify who are the people that care about our cause, where do they live?

Where can I find them? What about our cause is attractive to them. And that's what you want to do, is generate that connection between the core of what your value is to your supporters and their need that they see represented in your mission and what you do.

That's fantastic. So before you even think about making that Asfour donation, you really have to start with the community and build that personal relationship before. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And there's like a whole bunch of different ways that you can do that. And we see that in e-commerce as well. Right. There's a whole bunch of different ways to get customers. There's a whole bunch of different ways to get fans or followers. And there are multiple channels.

There are multiple ways to do that. But at the heart of a really valuable lead or new supporter or however you want to identify it is the strength of their connection to what you do. So if you are representing what you do, the value that you bring to your community, to the people you serve to be, to your objectives, if you're sort of laser-focused on representing that well, people are going to feel that connection to you.

And if you are keeping up with your engagement and you have those multiple touchpoints with those new supporters or supporters that you had for a while, folks are going to feel that connection to you and what you offer. So it's not- the answer I think sometimes people will ask me I'm looking for more leads, or looking for new supporters, or looking for new donors is the answer Facebook, is the answer email, is the answer telemarketing.

And those are all platforms. Right. Those are all tactics that can put towards a strategy. But if your overall strategy is making sure that the people you find are the ones who are most likely to care about your cause, you're kind of going in the right direction there.

And on top of, you know, finding that community, building that community. You also want to retain the community that you have now. So after people make that step and they do become a donor, how should nonprofits approach the follow up process? Should it be something that happens immediately? Should it be like a series of different steps?

Retention is so important now? Retention again, we're at the beginning of the year. If you are sitting down and you're looking at your fundraising or your marketing, hopefully you're looking at them together. Retention should be a major goal for you. It's something that's easy to track year over year how you're doing with that. And it's set that as a win for this year to improve your retention. And fortunately, so much has been written about retention.
So we have tons of benchmarking research on multiple platforms, how to retain people through direct mail, how to retain people through the use of the phone or online and all of that. So there's tons of stuff out there that you can look at. I think what's most useful is to actually make it a plan for yourself to improve your retention and so make that an actual goal that you manifest, not as something that you kind of observe. Oh, last year the retention was great, that sort of thing.

So we do know, again, multiple sources the more engagement you have and this is Care2 research, this is research from multiple thought leaders and platforms out there, the more engagement you have, the more likely you are to retain a donor for another donation or importantly, reactivate an inactive donor. So that's another element of retention that I think is really important to think about. At one point, you have lots of people in your ecosystem, in your database somewhere floating around there in the records of people who gave at one point and then didn't give again.

At one point they loved you. At one point they cared about your cause. So what happened? It's something that it's more likely for you to be able to reactivate someone who took an action for you, who cared in the past and just hasn't had that opportunity to express it. Again, if you can figure that out, reactivating something is really valuable. So that's another thing you should be thinking about is how can I create an engaging experience with people who were inactive to reactivate so much cheaper for you to focus on people that you already know who loved you at one point than it is to find brand new people, too.

So that's another thing that you should address as part of your retention. One of the things I want people to be aware of, and this comes up a lot with my students at George Brown sometimes, is there's this perception that the more you talk to a donor, the more you're irritating them or the more that you know, that they don't care for that and they don't want to be contacted. I've had multiple professionals tell me with our monthly donors, we don't like to contact them too much because we don't want to remind them that they're giving, which is really backwards, backwards in terms of intuitively.

And also the research shows that multiple touchpoints are considered beneficial by donors. The thing is that they like you, they care about your cause. Hopefully, there's a really good affinity match between what your organization offers the world and the core values of this individual. Right. So if their core values are something that you are doing, they want to hear about it. They want to know what you're up to. They want to know if you need extra help with something.

They want to hear about your appeals. They want to hear about your successes, too. So making sure that you do have engagement throughout the year will improve your retention. But of course, number one, you come back to the point is, are you tracking your retention? Are you tracking your attrition? Are you tracking how many people went inactive? This is really important for you to be able to then present that when in 2022, right.

Where we all want to go low in 2021, we started focusing on retaining the people who love us and look at how much better we did year over year.

I love that you mentioned not being afraid to reach out to those donors and you're not annoying them because I know when I started off in the social media space, I had that same conception. I was like, I don't want to keep bugging people. I don't want to send too many emails out. I don't want to post too much on social media. But the truth of the matter is, if somebody cares about you, they care about you. You know, if it's too much, they'll tell you.

Most of the time it's not.

Yeah, totally agree. And remember, if it was something like email, which is the number one online fundraising channel, it's also a huge e-commerce channel to just jump into your promotions folder and Gmail. Right. Especially around Black Friday, the holidays, all of that and you see that it's an effective way to engage with folks, but even with that channel, you're not reaching the vast majority of people that you are emailing. So there's a whole bunch of different reasons why you haven't been able to reach everybody in your database or everyone in your ecosystem wherever you're keeping all of your constituents.

So the idea that every single time you say something to the world, it's hitting every person who has ever been interested in you and annoying them is way off base. So but that's something that fortunately we have tools to track. Right. So you're able to look and see how many people are able to or opening your messages. How many people are clicking through? How many folks are coming in through inbound channels? How they're responding to social advertising? The digital does give you that in a way that allows you to be quite responsive.

There are so many tools out there now that track pretty much anything you ever possibly wanted to track out of your digital campaigns. I would love to get your opinion on automating the giving process. How important is automation in retention? Having that software in place to send the receipts, send the thank you's, send reminders?

Yeah, marketing automation is completely standard in the industry.

Right. So we should be benefiting from learning from that. So think about the relationships you have with the companies you already support, whether you get like every Wednesday, you get some sort of random email from Domino's, you know, all the retailers that are like, hey, we heard that you're into high waisted jeans, Claire.

Various ways that they put you on a drip or a series that's based on your preferences and interests and all of that kind of stuff. And then it's aligned with other experiences you might have on the Web, whether it's social advertising or something, variable content you might see on a  website, all of those sort of complex ways. Those are all possible with the tools that we have. But again, those are just tools like tactics that you put towards an overall strategy.

And an overall strategy doesn't exist without a goal. So what I always say to anyone who's feeling overwhelmed by this, like I could use this platform, I could use this website, and all of that is identify what your major goals are online, align your strategy towards those goals, then the tactics will make sense. So we talked about retention before, if your overall goal is retention, people tend to like us to them. We don't hear from them or they don't respond to us.

Maybe we only email that at the holidays or something like that. If retention is your goal, then what you realize you need to work on is more engagement. OK, so if I have to work on more engagement, how will I do that? OK, there are multiple things you can do. We're going to have a day, like a thank you Tuesday type day where the executive director and a board member is going to call people we are going to like, really focus on offering more virtual events in our virtual communities and things like that.

And one of the things we're going to do is build an engagement series and email that puts people through a supporter journey that will help them feel more connected to what we do. And so that would be a great strategy for when marketing automation software comes in hand in hand because you're not going to be sitting there. What we don't want to see anymore is forcing one employee to kind of have in their calendar. It's the first one day of the month.

I'd better send out an e-boss to everybody. I have no idea what we're going to talk about. It's like the newsletter. So I'm just going to send out the newsletter because it's Monday, because it's the beginning of the month. If you sort of sit down and think, OK, everyone who is new to the organization or group who comes in and they identify in this category. So an easy one would be a donor, non-donor monthly job or something like that.

Right. Anyone who comes in is added to this segment is going to get a series of these eight emails. And we know that these eight emails have a goal, which is to help them feel more connected and educate them about what we do. That that can be important, too, especially with people who aren't donors yet and or steer them towards an appeal that we're going to make. A big one I'm seeing a lot this year is to take existing donors, put them in a series for them to be donors.

So you if you have to have a set up in your marketing automation tool, you're able to not have to be pressing buttons constantly every time you get a new friend or new supporter. And it's also easy to see all of this is going to involve work. But it's something that you can adjust as you go.

Yeah, bringing it back to that goal setting, getting overwhelmed is totally possible with everything going on, especially if you're a smaller organization with less time, less staff, fewer resources, and that's a really big problem for a lot of organizations out there, you know, budgeting goes hand in hand with having good software. And a lot of nonprofits don't have that big budget for marketing. A lot of for-profits do. So what is the biggest misconception that organizations often have when they are new to the marketing space?

I think there's a lot of misconceptions, but one is probably that you have to be present on all platforms and that just creates it's almost like a horrible feedback loop of not being successful on the platform that would be most suited to your organization and to your audience because you're trying to do things everywhere, like, oh, we we have to be on Clubhouse, we have to be on TikTok and we have to update the LinkedIn page and various other things that may or may not actually serve your goals.

So the pressure for that can come from outside the team. So a lot of that pressure like do this or do that can sometimes come from stakeholders, leaders, board members, like influencers or whatever, who see what other organizations are doing and say, why aren't we doing that? But they don't have an understanding of, say, what your roadmap is for the year or what your goals for the year are, what your online objectives are, then like what resources you could put towards that.

There are also folks who don't understand the difference between paid and organic on social platforms. So they see something going on on social and they're like, why can't you replicate that? And you're like because we don't have a budget for doing that particular thing or whatever happens to be. So what I think it can be really useful is if folks who are doing fundraising, marketing, communications, all of that big bucket at an organization have put together a codified strategy illustrating what tactics are going to have for the time period that is appropriate there and do a good job of sort of managing up a little bit and do a good job of communicating well to other departments, to your leadership and explaining to them this is what our plan is for the year.

It's not set in stone. You know, we were obviously going to if we have to get special appeals out, but we have to do other things like there is a lot of wiggle room there. But this is where we're putting our resources and we've made these decisions professionally. So if they're outside voices that are sort of saying, oh, but why aren't you Twitter or why aren't you more boring stuff or whatever, you sort of have that grounding to say, well, I can tell you exactly why, because we realized that focusing on these areas is going to be most effective over this time period.

So that's what I would sort of say in terms of fighting that misconception that you have to do every single thing possible. Then another misconception I think people have is that that managing these platforms and communicating in these spaces is somehow just natural to digital natives. And if you just hire somebody who has some Instagram experience or something like that, that they will just master the platform or master the communications form, and they're often not given any kind of support that you would see in industry.

So what I would say is if you are looking to beef up digital at your organization, give your employees the benefit of training so you pay for those courses, pay for those webinars, it is professional development that is required. Whatever you knew about Facebook in 2010 is not going to be appropriate unless you're keeping up with your skills and expect to be able to do that kind of like on their own time is? Sure, I guess that's possible.

But other industries are investing in their staff. One of the great things about, you know, the shift to doing more online video and more webinars and things like that has been making the world of conferences and professional development more accessible to more people. So before you were able to kind of there's a thought leader you really wanted to hear from our workshop. You really want to take you couldn't fly to San Antonio or you couldn't go to Paris or wherever it happened to be.

There are more and more opportunities to have this delivered online that really opens up opportunities for your own staff to get this kind of training. So it can be really frustrating to be a new employee and you sort of throw them. Here's the database. And then we also want you to manage the email marketing software. And then we also want you to come up with a TikTok strategy and you'll be using your own personal phone, of course. And you like the lighting and whatever corner of your bedroom you have.

We should be supporting our employees more, and that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to put everybody put large budgets towards this, but it really does mean a lot to show that you are willing to invest in bringing your staff, these learning opportunities, bringing them up to speed with what they want to know more about in order to be more efficient at their job. And it also helps address that we have a retention issue in the nonprofit sector as well. So I don't know what would the last I heard from, I think Ontario Nonprofit Network, was two years was turned over time, I think, in a position or something like that.

But if we want to keep talented folks, we can invest in their learning.
Yeah. That's just the fact that the other day if you want to keep your employees satisfied, you have to also support them.

I've totally been that intern you just described that's expected to come up all the social media strategies, plus maintain a blog, plus do six other things.

Oh, yeah. Yeah. A lot of leaders have no problem investing in board leadership void or something like a board development retreat. So they know various other things. These are all important, they're all good, but they make a lot of digital stuff, communication stuff, marketing stuff. It's a learned skill.

Just because you can watch YouTube videos and figure things out doesn't mean that's the most efficient way to learn things. So yeah, it's totally possible to give your staff the tools, the professional tools that they need to do the job. So you'll actually get an appropriate database, get appropriate marketing, automation, software, and then also allow them to be trained on it.
Yeah, and it benefits both parties.

Right, because one person's learning a new skill and the other person knows that the jobs can be done in the best way possible because they have the information they need. So going back to starting out in the social media space. There's often that pressure to do things perfectly. We're just talking about how nonprofits kind of feel pressure to try to do it all. But it's also the stress to do it all and then some and have it come out perfect every time.

Obviously, you want your content to be really good received well, but it might hurt your ability to test because you're so scared of making sure everything's pristine a hundred percent of the time.

How important is testing and how can nonprofits learn to test smarter?

Yeah, I mean in in a digital way to one of the great things about it is that nothing is static, everything is variable, it's all dynamic. So you could never say anything is perfect because it's always able to be changed. And it's expected that it would be changed. Testing when it comes to digital stuff can sometimes be difficult or problematic because if you have a limited capacity. Right. So sometimes that can be as much as we all know, we're supposed to be testing subject lines and donation forms.

There are so many different things that you could be testing and doing that does take away time from the regular day-to-day. So I completely understand why it's difficult for nonprofits to do that as compared to Pepsi, which can run like fifteen different initiatives and 14 of them fail. The one that does really well, Pepsi is like, OK, we'll put like a billion dollars towards that. Right. That's not really the experience for most people in the nonprofit sector.

So I would say if you're going to be doing testing, it's important to test over longer periods of time than I typically see people testing. So usually I'll see something like, well, we threw this up for two days on Facebook. Again, it didn't seem we do very well. We took it down. We threw something else up and that did better for three days. I'm not sure that's giving you sort of meaningful understanding of the impact of whatever that tactic was on your community.
So and another thing I see people testing is either too many differences or very small differences. So a good test, something that really has sort of the answer to whether this is good or not is going to be super meaningful to you. So a good example of that would be you've got two client stories or you got two patient stories and you want to see which on pulls better with your community using social to sort of test. That can be really useful, because if you find that there is a big difference in terms of this story, that we have really seems to be an affinity match to women.

And we're trying to grow this group of women in our community. We want we've identified this as a valuable group that we want to have more of. And this particular patient story does very well with that group. Then for a limited amount of time and money testing on social, you know that you might want to use that for something that's more important, like emails or direct mail or any of those other things that you typically do spend more time doing testing on.

So that's where I would sort of suggest to people. Not getting too bogged down with looking at every little thing that they can test. And, of course, if you want to know all about testing and optimization, we tell people to head over to next after dot com. They have tons of free resources on that exact topic for charities and non-profits specifically. And they also publish the research that they've done based on tests. Always take everything with a grain of salt, though, right?

Just because two hundred charities showed one effect on their donation form, that might inform your decisions. But it's not like a Bible, right? Back in the day when everyone's like, what colour should the donation button be? Should it be green? Should it be red? And the idea that the magical colour would somehow make everyone's donations go up. Right. You have the test with your own community, with the capacity that you actually have. Just having that mindset can be really valuable for an organization, just having the mindset of we should look at things regularly and sort of speak to other things and be a really healthy attitude for charity or nonprofit to have.

So I got a good example of that would be some folks have a donation for they've had up for five or ten years. They've never looked at it. You know, maybe we should change the donation or maybe there's elements on our website that haven't been updated. The terms and conditions on the website. Does it still say 2013? If you have anything in your terms of conditions or your privacy policy that addresses mobile technology, that addresses all the new things that have happened since then, the having the idea that nothing will stay forever in terms of like the perfect email or the perfect donation for that attitude, I think can be a really healthy one sort of habit of work.

Well, thank you so much, Claire, for joining me on this show. For those listening, I have links Next After which is the testing I mentioned in our interview and the description box, along with a link to Care2, which again, is an online petition platform.

And if you want to stay updated on the podcast to learn more about Driven, please give our website just a visit. We are also on social media. Those are linked in the description box as well. We'd love to connect with subscribers, with your podcasts and next time, Fundraising Superheroes.

Get Our Monthly Newsletter

Be the best non-profit you can be, get our tricks and useful podcast interviews direct to your inbox.

By Sabrina Sciscente (RA) on Apr 28, 2021, 12:00 AM


Similar Posts

Customer relationship management systems (CRMs) have become standard in the nonprofit industry, and for a good reason. No excel sheet can do what they do. A robust CR...
Donation receipts are a normal part of your organization’s operations. Still, with a little creativity and some tweaks to your template, you can turn it into an excellent ...
With the recent updates regarding COVID-19 a lot of organizations are choosing to cancel big public events and conferences for good reasons. Some are even deciding...

Check out the most powerful Non-profit Software in The World