By Frank Barry published February 27, 2014

3 Ways Content Marketing Can Improve Donor Retention Rates

donate-cause-word cloudTaking a look at 2014 Nonprofit Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America Report, 92 percent of nonprofits say that they use content marketing, but only 26 percent think they’re good at it. I wonder if this is because nonprofits haven’t considered how content marketing could improve their donor retention rates.

You see, close to 75 percent of your new donors will not return after they make their first donation to your organization. That’s not a statistic anyone could be proud of.

If a company had customer retention rates under 30 percent, they’d soon be out of business, because the cost of acquiring a new customer is significantly higher than that of retaining an existing customer. Yet, the nonprofit industry settles for donor retention rates of 27 percent? It’s as if we’ve been standing on the sidelines watching as retention rates fell from 33 percent to 27 percent over the past decade.

There has to be a better way. We can’t continue doing the same things year after year, expecting different results. Right?

In the spirit of improving donor retention rates in 2014, let’s take a look at a few ways implementing a content marketing strategy could have a significant impact on the bottom line for nonprofits:

1. Positioning your organization as the go-to resource 

You can be certain that a first-time donor has a personal connection to the nonprofit they chose to support. For example, if I give to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), I probably care about wildlife and nature. Or, I may have a kid who loves the outdoors. Regardless of the specifics, this connection means I’m personally vested in bringing about positive change. And where there’s a personal connection, chances are there’s an opportunity for our organization to serve as a great personal resource.

Let’s stick with the NWF example. One of its key missions is to inspire future generations to love and respect wildlife and the outdoors. In true content marketing form, it’s positioning itself as the go-to resource for all things wildlife and outdoors. From Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. print magazines to the Wild Animal Baby Explorers TV series and its nature games and apps, NWF is serving up content via multiple channels. And all of it’s been designed to engage and inspire its target audience — kids and their parents.

Once a donor has given her first gift to NWF, it’s more likely she’ll continue giving into the future because of the interesting and useful content that she is able to engage in on an ongoing basis.

2. Using content as a means to follow up quickly

Acquiring new donors is tough and expensive work. Having a plan in place to keep these new donors engaged and coming back after their first donation is tremendously important (unless you like wasting time and money!). Delivering content marketing that reinforces their decision to support your mission in the days and weeks immediately following their first click on your “Donate” button is an opportunity for your organization to stay top-of-mind with these new hand-raisers. It also helps increase the value this relationship can potentially bring. For example, according to an Experian Marketing Services report, the first email someone receives after a transaction achieves transaction rates and revenue that are 10 times higher than what is achieved through bulk emails. These messages also earn five times more “opens” and four times more clicks.

Now, I understand these numbers are not specific to the nonprofit industry, but they do provide valuable insight into the power of those first follow-ups after an initial interaction. Simply introducing content that has been developed as a thoughtfully planned and well-executed donor onboarding series could have a significant impact on whether or not those donors are retained. 

What might a content-fueled new donor welcome series look like? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start with a special thank-you note from your executive director. Make sure to send this one within 24 hours of a donor’s first interaction with your organization.
  2. The next email should be delivered fairly soon after the first and should solely be about the impact your organization is having on the world. Include video or other visual content that depicts how the support you receive enables the good work that you do. This helps to reinforce the decision your new donor has made to support you. Need inspiration? Take a look at this example from Charity: Water:

  1. Your donor obviously believes in your organization — she wouldn’t have pulled her wallet out for you if she didn’t. But chances are she may not be aware of the full depth and breadth of your organization’s work. So now that your newest donor has learned a bit more about the impact you have on the world, it’s time to start driving her involvement deeper by peeling back the onion and informing her about your organization’s overall mission.

Start the education process by creating content that shares relevant reports or research you’ve published, like American Cancer Society does. Point them to your blog, where they can find even more information and examples. Arm your new donors with so much interesting, valuable information that they will be compelled to share your content — and the importance of your cause — with their like-minded friends.

explore research-cancer facts

  1. At this point, it’s time to start introducing new donors to the community of folks who already love the work you do, as well as those you’ve helped in some way. For example, March of Dimes does a great job of sharing user-generated content through Facebook, as well as on its website. These are also great places to encourage supporters and beneficiaries to share their stories with one another.

share your story-march of dimes

  1. Once you’ve delivered on all the elements outlined above, think about delivering content that shows new donors how else they can engage with your organization, such as listing local events, describing volunteer opportunities, organizing online chats, providing information on locations where they can donate physical goods, etc. Be sure your donor understands that there are many ways she can support your cause, above and beyond a monetary donation — and that you’d love for her to do so. 
  1. At last, once you’ve provided all this additional information and value to your new donor, it’s a good time to ask for that second gift. You’ve spent time cultivating the relationship over a few months (or more) through your content marketing, and have shown your new donor how her contribution has helped made a difference, so it’s time to ask for her to support you further. Be tactful and gracious, but don’t be afraid to ask. This is also a great opportunity to suggest a recurring monthly gift.

If nonprofits do a great job using content marketing to onboard new donors, it’s much more likely these new donors will come back to support the cause time and time again.

3. Make content so awesome that first-time donors want to share it

Research by Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell found that broadcasting personal opinions gives people the same sense of reward as earning money.

According to Tamir and Mitchell, “Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. Moreover, individuals were willing to forgo money to disclose about the self.”

In layman’s terms: People feel good when sharing information about themselves. It’s rewarding!

Why not make it easy for people to share their support of your organization by publishing content that is so good that they can’t help but tell their friends about it?

Kick start your nonprofit’s retention-focused content marketing strategy by taking cues from organizations like:

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA): BBBSA has been doing incredible work for over 100 years. While the concept of content marketing isn’t news to this group, it’s embraced the power of combining content with social media to make sure donors can help spread the word about its important mission.

For example BBBSA’s Start Something web series is shedding light on the impact that “Bigs” have on “Littles” by publishing stories through video on its YouTube channel, sharing those stories on its website, and talking about them on its Facebook page. So far, it’s covered six matches between “Bigs” and “Littles.” Showing off the work that its supporters do and how it impacts the lives of kids is a great way to educate and inspire new donors.

start something-big brothers

  • American Red Cross: This organization has been making a difference since 1881, helping people with needs as diverse as learning first aid and CPR, preparing for natural disasters, or becoming a more responsible babysitter. It has even created an awesome YouTube video that offers a glimpse of what its online and classroom sessions offer. As you can see, the Red Cross is a hub of content that’s highly useful and aimed at educating people on a wide range of topics. You can be sure that all this educational and informative content keeps its donors coming back for more.

babysitting basics online course

  • March of Dimes: The March of Dimes has successfully created a content marketing strategy that supports its core mission of making sure every baby is given a healthy start in life. You can bet the content it’s producing — including blog posts, Twitter updates, compelling videos posted on YouTube, and other immersive social media experiences — is being used to raise awareness about its cause, turn passersby into new donors, and keep those new donors coming back year after year. 

aidan lamothe-march of dimes national ambassador

There you have it: Three fairly simple-to-implement and straightforward tips to help your nonprofit improve donor retention rates in 2014. I’d love to hear if you’re already doing these things or plan on taking them back to your organization for consideration. If so, leave me a comment below.

Interested in more great examples of how marketers use content to connect with a target audience? Find them in Ultimate eBook: 100 Content Marketing Examples.

Cover image via Bigstock 

Author: Frank Barry

Frank Barry is the Director of Digital Marketing at Blackbaud and blogger on npENGAGE. He digs helping nonprofits excel at digital marketing, social media and online fundraising. Follow him on Twitter and Google+, and make sure to download his a free eBook on improving donor retention.

Other posts by Frank Barry

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  • Hashim Warren

    “People feel good when sharing information about themselves. It’s rewarding!”

    I think this is key. Your content should make the donor the hero, not your organization.

    Would you agree, Frank?

    • frank barry

      Couldn’t agree more, Hashim!!! It’s got to be about the donor and their impact on the work being done. :)

  • Next in Nonprofits

    Excellent point about recognizing people feel good when they can share your thought-leadership. An extra win for them, but you have to give them good stuff to share. Well done.