Farrah Rooney On How To Keep Your Donors Happy and Engaged

farrah rooney driven
Everyone knows how important retention is to your fundraising strategy, but how important is donor retention really? 

Driven’s Director of Partnerships Farrah Rooney has been in the industry for over 15 years helping hundreds of organizations raise more and build stronger communities. We were happy to get her on the show to discuss how to communicate with your donors and use key findings in your data to improve your communication. 

In our interview we discuss: 
  • How crucial donor retention is for a sustainable organization
  • The importance of trying and testing new ideas 
  • The role your donor's data plays in retention 
  • Why organizations should worry less about if they are asking too much of their donors

Full Transcript

Let's talk about donor retention with the fantastic Farrah Rooney.

Hello and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and if you're not familiar with us, Driven is an online fundraising platform here to help you among the power of your donor data and save hours in data management.

I'm so happy to have Driven's Director Partnerships Farrah on the show. She works with us, but has been in the industry for over 15 years. As a consultant, strategist and events manager, Farah has helped nonprofits connect with donors, raise money and build better communities. And she's on the show today to discuss how we can keep donors engaged in 2021.

So thank you, Farrah, for coming on to the show.

I'm happy to be here.

So we're entering a new year. We're in the New Year, meaning a lot of us are starting to set goals and resolutions to make 2021 hopefully a lot better than 2020. How important will donor engagement be in the New Year?

Yeah, I mean, donor engagement is always super important, no matter what time of year, I tend to think that particularly in January and the beginning of the year, donor engagement and just engagement in general is so important you tend to garner a lot of really fantastic goodwill through the holiday season.

And you're talking to your donors and you're giving them a lot of love and they're giving you gratitude and love back. And then there's this feeling of just relief in January. I know, because I'm a fundraiser and you get through it and you're just exhausted and you just want to take your foot off the gas a little bit in January and February.

And that's often the most really important time to just really be engaging with your supporters and letting them know all the amazing impact they're going to have in the upcoming year.

How much work was done the previous year, just really how you're going to partner with your supporters to really make a difference. The other thing to consider, too, is there's a lot of research that shows that you can actually upgrade your one time donors really a lot faster than you think that maybe you should and ask them for that second gift or ask them to convert to a monthly donor or even ask them to upgrade their monthly gift.

I've seen research that shows that there's a lot of success getting that upgrade conversion even within the first few weeks after you make that information. So that's another thing that I would really explore. Test and test, test. So test out on out and test asking your one time donors to upgrade the gift and explain to them how they make even deeper impact for 2021 and how that gets to be really transformational. So don't be afraid to do that.

The other thing that that you can do, just kind of looking back into that whole engagement piece, is just why not create a welcome series for the New Year? I know a lot of nonprofits out there and organizations, they do have that welcome series after that first gift. But a lot of times that will run out and that will have expire and run its course by the time January comes. So why not create a segment out your your new donors from sort of, you know, October, November, December and set up a welcome series or even further back?

Why not? But if you want to sort of look at those new supporters and create a nice little welcome series that ends in your final one being an upgrade, there's no harm in sort of sending out a second welcome series, welcoming everyone to 2021 and hopefully a new year, a new year and a better year.

Because Giving Tuesday, I know is notorious for bringing in a lot of new donors. But I think the biggest thing that I've seen in the space is that sometimes it just ends there. You get all those new people in and then that's it. They only donate the one time. So that coupled with December 31 being the other big day of giving. How can nonprofits continue to keep that momentum going and turn those for some donors into long-lasting supporters?

I know you mentioned a welcome series. So what should that look like for nonprofits?

Yeah, so I mean, I think, first of all, that definitely it's sort of understanding that the threshold for sending out communication to your supporters is probably a lot higher than you might think. I know from when I was a fundraiser and speaking to a lot of my clients that there's sort of this gut feeling that you don't want to bother, you don't want to set up too many emails. You don't really want to bother your supporters too much.

But the fact is that research shows that you can be sending out a lot more email than you do, a lot more communications. And I should specify to the email right now that you can send out a lot more than you necessarily think that you can. So, you know, why not be sending out emails weekly or you can send out even more keep an eye on the unsubscribe lists or unsubscribe numbers, but also, of course, keep an eye on those donation conversion numbers and really see and also ask yourself, you know, those folks that you are losing for unsubscribes, are they really that engaged with you to to begin with?

If you're telling the story and you're reaching out to them and you're talking to them in the right way, I don't think you should worry at all about talking to donors. And, hey, I mean, there's lots of science out there around this, so definitely go out and have a look and why not test? Just keep your eye on it. If it doesn't work for you and you get tons of tons of unsubscribed, then definitely relook the strategy.

But don't be afraid if you do get one unsubscribed here and there. If you do get one email of somebody being a little annoyed by it, don't let that stop you from from continuing to communicate with more than you feel you should because you have one squeaky wheel. But that does mean that the other ten, twenty, thirty, forty five thousand folks that you're communicating with are liking hearing from you more, aren't appreciating that or don't mind it.

And, you know, one day they very well maybe just about to convert get out and just about to come up with a number for you. That would be my one thing and then as far as you know, thinking about sort of how much you asking for as well and donation amount, I would definitely look at that, you know, think about segmenting out your different donor groups, donor levels like, for instance, if you're considering building out a mid-level donation strategy for 2021, which may be a good idea for you and for your organization, why not look at segmenting those folks out and asking for a little bit of a higher donation level?

And also why not build a donation form that speaks just to them? If you have the right software, it should be fairly easy to do and send out that donation form with that email.

So all of those donation couples are aligned. And just in general, always a really good idea. Every once in a while, just keep going and you should be looking at your average gift amount anyway all the time online. And if you're finding that your average gifts are coming in a lot higher than your asking levels on your donation forms, then I think it's probably a good idea to look in and bump up those numbers and maybe be asking for a little bit of a stretch, asking for 10 percent, 50 percent more than your average gift donation ask levels on your forms and see.

Those are that kind of talking about misconceptions, really think about your donation, ask levels, think about segmenting out your different donor groups and maybe pushing them a little bit to the amounts that you're asking as well as don't be afraid to send out more emails and test, always test, test, test. That's a big thing.

I love what you said about even if you do get unsubscribes, just maybe like take a second, take a step back and evaluate what is causing that, because I know that sometimes we think that our mind automatically goes to, oh, this created this reaction. So it has to be that I'm sending too many emails or it has to be the specific thing, but it could be really anything. So when people are evaluating that, what are some tips you can give them?

Well, I mean, honestly, it's kind of like to use a statement that was really popular like ten years ago. Just keep calm and carry on. Right.

I mean, I did a big project with a fairly large client and that was around sending out a lot of emails, we were doing surveying to get information back. And there was a couple of complaints. And the client came back, seemed really concerned. And I said, you know, I hear you. And it's definitely important to address that person's concerns and to listen to them. But at the same time, there were the other twenty thousand others, we sent out this to twenty thousand other folks and we heard back from two.

And so let's not- they were looking at like pulling the plug and they were really concerned. And I was like, no, no, no, let's just keep our eye on big picture. Think about the benefit that you're going to get from this and also the investment of time and money that you've already put into this. And let's just keep going. And that's not to say that if there are specific concerns that you hear from one donor and it's worth looking at and considering it might be an oversight and you're like, oh, yeah, that's actually a really good point.

So not to dismiss that but definitely like I said, just keep calm, carry on, don't panic. Keep your eye on the prize. Keep your eye on the big picture and keep going.

Yeah, communication is really huge when it comes to maintaining and building relationships. So how can fundraiser's use their donor data to help make more relevant and effective appeals?

Yeah, I mean, definitely I think it comes down to planning, research, segmentation, and I know that's easy to say, but at the first place I always look at is, is this your own data and going back and seeing and working.

Sometimes you're just so busy just going and going and going. You don't really have time to look at your data. An example I like to talk about, because I was working with another client and they're a large charity that does domestic work and international work. And I was just curious about their appeals and which ones are converting better to monthly than others. And I notice that even though that the large amount of their appeals that they sent out were rather international work there, the appeals they sent out for their domestic work, we're actually converting at a much higher level.

And I mean, don't get me wrong, I get it. There's lots of different factors that might be at play. And I also understand that sort of focus of the charities appeals and I understand a lot of different moving parts. But in this case, I was like, OK. We can see that that there's a certain group of people in the country in which they're operating that are very, very engaged in your domestic work and they want to support you through becoming a monthly donor.

So let's explore doing some more appeals around your domestic work, which was amazing. Like they were doing tons of great work domestically. They just weren't talking about it as much. And let's just explore that. And that might be easier said than done. Right? There are a lot of again, a lot of different factors at play. But like, OK, let's look at this. Let's explore this. Can we start testing this and seeing how this works?

You can possibly achieve some great wins there for you, for your organization and also for your supporters, because your supporters might be super hungry to be hearing about your domestic work, for example. But you're just not talking about it as much because you hadn't even looked at it. You hadn't even thought about it. Right. So there is one example. And then, segmenting those folks out and testing and testing.

The other thing I think is really important and I know I've seen this on the blog before, it's really good storytelling, finding those amazing stories, telling those really great stories, seeing again, looking back, doing to be sort of seeing what stories resonate with your with your supporters and then really understanding the heart and the craft of those stories. Animal welfare, those charismatic animals, they always tend to convert really well.

So really understanding and getting those and getting those stories as well. Know the way that you think that you include those with those stories as well.

You know, if we want to talk about direct mail, you know, things like premium's little pens,or things that you can give away that can help support your support and deepen that relationship. Sometimes just getting a pen or getting some labels from a charity can help build relationships as well.

And again, thinking about bounce backs can really help engage, which it's an insert or a little something that a donor or supporter can fill in and send back a pledge at Christmas time. Really meaningful ones around Christmas wishes back to the folks at the charity supports or it really can be lots of different creative ideas. So those are all different things that you can kind of create to maintain and maintain those relationships to create deeper relationships.

And also as well, that call to action and making sure you have a really strong call to action tied to the story that you're telling. So, yeah, I think those pieces all working together can create really relevant and effective appeals for sure.

And I guess that the testing, along with the analytics, they really do go hand in hand because that example you gave was a perfect one. How would you have known if you didn't try promoting both the international and the community based work? And how would you know that it was better if you didn't have that data system that was telling you like this is what's converting this with getting the donations. So I guess that having that really strong software to back up your stories, your communication, all that is really key to like fixing your strategy.

Yeah, and I think that it's not necessarily sending out AB tests or every single email you send out, because I also appreciate that that can be a little daunting. Maybe it's if you've sort of bumped up the volume of email, it's maybe testing something out one week, testing something out another week. And it is a bit of an art form, right. Like it's testing out your emails versus maybe something a little bit longer or I mean, like really short emails, like a couple of lines or maybe 50 words or something longer. Or testing images or testing a little email that you sent off the side of your desk. It's very personal. There's lots of different things that you can try. So, yeah, definitely testing is really important because I know that so many times in my career where I felt like this is definitely going to work, this is so smart and then it sent out, and you're like no it didn't work, they still like the other one. So, yeah, it's you never know.

You never know what's going to work with your supporters unless you test. So yeah. So having the right tools and having the right software is absolutely key to that. Being able to have your segmented lists, understand who your supporters are, easily able to segment them based on queries having that tracking within the software to track back so you can look at your open rates, you can see your conversion rates, you can actually see how much email is really raising.

So you can actually see how much an email actually raised for you versus another one with the right software, as well as really leveraging those tracking links, looking at your Google analytics and whatnot and being able to tie that to your software. So, I mean, I got a bit obsessed with it when I first got into tracking. And I remember sending out a series of emails and I had different tracking links on every single link and even the banner within an email.

And so I was actually able to go in and really at a granular level look and see which link was actually working. I was linking buttons differently than to linking words and tracking all of that because I was really, really curious to see what actually worked. And in my case was working was basically hotlinking the text in the paragraph that told people exactly what to do. So it was like, click here and donate now or click here to save a life or click here to make a difference, whatever the story was.

That was the one in this in this case that was performing best for any sort of big red button. And the banner didn't really work at all either. But that might be different. I mean, it might be different for the different charity. You never know.

Going into the rest of twenty twenty one. What do you encourage nonprofits to focus on in the New Year, whether it be donor retention, testing, really focusing on your analytics.
Yeah, I mean, a few things, I mean, first of all, I always believe that a good foundation is key to success. So, I mean, one thing that I would definitely say is look at your technology. And I mean, hopefully with everyone working from home, cloud based, if it's not cloud based, definaty look into getting a cloud based solution.

Look at your look at your processes, because the other thing, too, is that technology is only as good as the people in process. A lot of times, I've spoken to a lot of clients where they're really struggling with technology. And in fact, it's not necessarily the tool that's the issue. It's the processes around the tool. It's inconsistent data, inconsistent naming conventions around around your appeals. It's people not entering things or people or whatever. So take a step back, look at your processes.

Look into your software and see if there is some clean up or some improvements found there. The other thing that I would suggest to focus on for the new year, and this is something that I love and I've seen it be really transformational, is to really build out an annual communication plan. And so sit down in January, bring the stakeholders to the table and say, OK, this is our year. Line up the different months and start building out your themes and building out your campaigns and building out your appeals.

And if there's a lot of different voices at the table at that point, you can say, OK, this is volunteer month or this is this or this is that. If you're part of an organization, hopefully you do have some some guidance around maybe international appeals. You can plug them all in and then you can say, OK, so we have in August we could do this sort of domestic appeal or something like that, but building it all out and then lining up all of your channels just underneath that.

Right. So you have your different themes and then you're going to and then you sort of line up when your key appeals are. So when your direct mail is going out, what your direct mail theme is going to be, and then lining up your digital themes and your digital space around that to support it. So you're really creating sort of campaigns that are built around this kind of communications prodegy and lining up your social and lining up if you have out of home.

So if you have tons of money and so you're like, I'm going to take over all the buses. So if you're doing like buses or you're doing billboards or, you know, you want to test out direct television, DRTV, but just sort of making sure that it's all kind of lined up. Right. And and you see a lot of charity doing that for Giving Tuesday. But why not take what you've got on Giving Tuesday at just line it all up throughout the year?

So that's one thing that I would say for a couple of things. I would say for 2021, get those processes of technology in place and build out a communication strategy. And that has to buy in from all of your stakeholders at the table. So everyone is sort of together at those silos and everyone's really focused on what you want to achieve and also, you know, making sure that that that's all aligned with the program staff as well.

Right. So everything is just really sort of tightly working together towards achieving your your vision. And the last thing I'll sort of say is just engage, engage, engage. And that's sort of what we're talking about here today. But keep talking to your donors. They probably want to hear from you more than they do. I have a lot of opportunity, but I have absolutely love here where I live and I donate to them.

And I never hear really much from them. And I love the work they do. I know they're doing amazing work but it's a real opportunity. Like I would have loved to have heard from them after my Giving Tuesday gift. Right. And I did it. Or I'd love to hear what they're doing in the New Year, but I haven't heard from them. So again, that's fine. I bet you they think that they're probably sending out a lot of communications, but I would love to hear more from them.

So there's a just another example. And don't get me wrong, like I get it. I know that it's hard to so many things to do. And everyone stretched so thin that those are more communications. That's where that good software can help. If you have a really great integrated software solution where you have your CRM, you have your fundraising functions, you have your email solution, and it's all connected. It's all integrated. It's all in one solution.

And you could set up email automation's if it just be. Taking a couple of days, writing them out, getting them approved, and then, you know, if the software is easy to use, it shouldn't take you too much time to set up those. And even if you do one a quarter, it can really pay off and whatnot. So make sure you have a great software solution that has templates so you can easily set up a template.

You can easily play with it and test, you know, again, make sure that it's easy to build those segments that you have. You can build a query once and it will pull in all those new folks into that email list or whatever. There's lots of little things that if you have the right software solution, that could really make a huge difference and save you so much time that it isn't a huge effort to be engaging and doing some of your day to day.
Well, thank you very much for coming on to the show again, I think this is the perfect place to end the podcast, but listening for give us a lot of good information, I think the biggest thing that we can take from this conversation is that don't be afraid to test new things, see what resonates with you donors and of course, use software to help measure the success of your campaigns and your appeals. You know, as Farrah explained a donor management software is really important to your overall strategy.

And here at Driven, we believe the same. So if you're looking for a software that will help support you and work for you, we would love to support your organization. So it would give us a visit at trustdriven.com. If you want to stay updated on everything, Fundraising Superheroes get all kinds of transcriptions and get other resources like blogs, infographics and just the latest nonprofit news. Please give us a call @TrustDriven on Facebook and LinkedIn we post regularly.

We'd also appreciate it if you could subscribe wherever you listen to your podcast and leave a rating if you can. Thank you so much for listening to the show and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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Podcast Mar 24, 2021, 12:00 AM

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