I’m sure you’ve seen all the gloomy articles and blog posts floating around noting the threat to nonprofit fundraising posed by a sinking economy.

A threat compounded by data indicating further fall-off in new donor acquisition and retention rates throughout much of the charitable community, as fellow Agitator Roger has commented on. Roger concluded his assessment with this recommendation:

"Now’s the time to take another look at next year’s budget and make sure you’re spending more, not less, to achieve on donor satisfaction and loyalty to hold on to your base."

Now, "hold on to your base" can mean a lot of things, from programmatic strategies to emphasize the work and activities you know (because you’ve done the donor research) brought your core donors in; to fine-tuning member/donor communications to report and celebrate results, results, results … and how your donors made those possible; to ensuring that in-bound member/donor inquiries are effectively handled; to tactical adjustments to donor renewal campaigns (the copy, the contact scheme, etc.).

All of these are important and can make a big difference. And because renewals are the most profitable fundraising activity you undertake, from your biggest donor to the rank-and-file, any retention improvements you achieve will yield significant net revenue.

Maybe you don’t control every aspect of the programmatic and marketing mix that can combine to strengthen donor retention. Perhaps as a fundraiser you "merely" control the nuts & bolts of the renewal process. Even so, now’s the time to show folks just how critical smart execution can be to the bottomline.

Start by taking a really careful look at your renewal program … everything from copy to the number, nature and timing of renewal contacts. Larger organizations tend to test each element of their renewal efforts very carefully, as they should … judiciously fine-tuning complex programs on an ongoing basis. Smaller organizations might be quite disorganized and even desultory in their approach, not even having what I’d call a renewal program … instead virtually "cut & pasting" stale year-end or annual appeals.

But the dropping renewal rates in the community — and the reality that donors will husband their charitable resources during stressful economic times — suggest that there should be no higher priority than fresh examination of renewal programs. Nothing should be taken for granted.

When "the boss" asks what should be done to protect revenue over the coming year, were I you, I’d say: "Bust our chops to improve renewal rates!" Then I’d add: "And get the rest of the organization focused on that goal too."

Sound simple, or obvious? Try it!

Tom

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