Read the Story the Donor Data Tells You

• fundraising metrics • donor retention • fundraising management
Ellen Bristol

Can You Read the Story Your Data is Telling You?

Happy kid exploring nature with magnifying glassStorytelling is an important skill for any nonprofit fundraiser to master. It’s the key to creating great content that inspires donors! But there’s another kind of storytelling that’s just as important but less discussed: the kind of stories our donor data tells us. If we pay attention, our data can tell us important stories about our donors! It tells us their likes, their dislikes, their motivations and struggles, and what they need from the organizations they support. Those stories also tell nonprofit fundraisers how they’re doing; whether they’re inspiring their donors, how their donors want to give, and where they should focus their fundraising efforts.

Let’s take a look at some important statistics to track. Each of these tells you an important story about your donors!

Your Donor Retention Rate
How many donors stick with you? How many donors have given and then not given again?

To calculate your donor retention rate:

  • Find the number of people who donated to your organization in one 12-month span (year-one donors)
  • Then, identify the donors in that first pool who gave again the second year (donors who gave again in year 2)
  • Divide the number from year 1 by the number from year 2

Your donor retention rate tells an important story: it tells you how well you’ve done at keeping your donors engaged in making a difference. If you have a high donor retention rate, your donors are still highly invested in your cause. You’ve done a good job communicating their impact and reiterating that they’re a critical part of your mission. If it’s low, your donors are struggling. They need more from you! Focus on showing them how valuable their contributions are. Tell them more stories about how much they’ve done. Reiterate how valuable they are. Reminding them that they make a difference every time they give is the #1 way to retain them!

Your At-Risk Donors
Worker with yellow helmet  falling from aluminium ladderImagine your favorite donor is about to board a plane. Or preparing to walk through a door. Or gazing into a black hole. Whatever they’re doing, you know you’ll never see them again unless you act.

Suspenseful, right? This is the story you can see when you look at your number of at-risk donors. At-risk donors are people who have supported you in the past but haven’t given in the last nine months. They’re nearing the door that leads to Lapsed Donor Land and, once they walk through it, it’s hard to get them back.

Keep an eye on your number of at-risk donors. If that number is rising, your donors aren’t engaged with your nonprofit and aren’t giving. If it’s dropping, you’re doing a good job of communicating your donors’ impact and inspiring them to give.

This statistic, when combined with your donor retention rate, can tell you a compelling story about your donors’ perceptions of your organization and how well you’re communicating with and inspiring them.

Your Donor Lifetime Value
Your donor lifetime value represents how much a donor gives to your organization during their relationship with you. This tells a couple of valuable stories!

The first story it can tell you is the story of your marketing effectiveness. If you regularly spend more money attaining donors than they give over their “lifetime,” you learn that it might be time to change your acquisition processes. If you spend, on average, $30 acquiring a donor but only earn $29 per donor on average, you have three choices: you can either pull back on the money you spend acquiring donors, you can come up with ways to inspire donors to give more or stay longer, or you can do both!

The second story it can tell you requires that you track this statistic over time. If your donor lifetime value increases, you’re doing a good job at acquiring higher-level donors and a good job at keeping donors engaged over time. If it starts to decline, it indicates that something is going wrong. Either donors are making smaller gifts or they’re not staying involved in your organization long term. You’ll want to spend some time investigating!

Donation Amount Segment Performance
This is a fascinating story that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Understanding how much your donors give per transaction can tell you so much about the kind of people who support you!

This statistic is different from your donor lifetime value statistic; instead of telling you how much a donor has given over time, it tells you how much a donor gives during each transaction. Tracking this statistic helps you pinpoint how much your donor base tends to prefer to give.

So, for example, if you know the majority of your donors tend to give between $1 and $49, you can tailor your appeals to be especially compelling. Instead of asking for a gift of, say, $75, you could ask for a gift at a lower level. Or, better, you could ask donors to commit to giving a $20 gift every month. You already know your donors are comfortable giving at that level! Alternatively, if you see that a large portion of your donor base gives between $50 and $99, you wouldn’t have to worry about asking people to make a gift of $75. Many of them already give at that level!

Restriction and Channel Performance
Have you ever wished you could read the minds of all the people in your donor base? Pay attention to the data on where and how they give, and you can!

If you’ve set up multiple restrictions for different programs, initiatives, or causes, pay attention to where your donors are giving. You can learn so much about a donor this way! Understanding where a donor puts their dollars gives you insight into the causes they’re passionate about supporting. Combining that insight with an understanding of how they donated paints an even more complete picture. Knowing that Linda tends to donate to your after-school program after you make an appeal on Facebook paints you a picture of her communication preferences and what causes appeal to her the most. Understanding that John and his wife write you a check once a year after you release your holiday appeal gives you valuable insight into their preferences and how you can most effectively connect with them.

Tracking your restriction and channel performance tells you a story about your donor base. Instead of being reduced to a dollar amount in your CRM, they become more complete “characters” in your story—they become a grandmother who values children’s education, a traditional and dependable donor, a tech-savvy mover and shaker who will fire off a gift by text when they see you at an event. It makes them people, and it helps you understand what inspires them!

Fundraising Team Performance
If you gather the right information, your data can even tell the story about your team's effectiveness, efficiency, and flexibility as they do their jobs. Data about performance management can tell fascinating stories about what's working and what's not, even when your fundraising team is an all-volunteer army. Insights you'll get from these data can tell you, your senior leadership and even your board stories about your capacity to reach important fundraising goals and milestones, where you need help, and what's going right. That's a story that simply doesn't get told often enough.

If you’re a nonprofit fundraiser, you know how big a role storytelling plays in your fundraising. But you’re not the only one with a story to tell! Your data can tell you fascinating stories about your donors, their patterns, their preferences, and their level of engagement with your nonprofit. Are you listening?

About the Author: This blog post was written by Abby Jarvis,  the Nonprofit Education Manager at Qgiv, a company that's dedicated to building powerful fundraising tools that empower nonprofits to thrive and grow.  Qgiv is a strategic tech partner of Bristol Strategy Group. For more information about managing your fundraising team's performance, click here.

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