Ashley Dittmar shares how she uses technology paired with the human instinct to engage and retain giving to organizations, year-over-year.

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Maximize your CRM for personalized engagement and year over year philanthropy

“My hope is for all fundraisers to feel proud of their work raising critical resources for the nonprofits they serve by helping them implement strategies to create long-term, sustainable, and reliable revenue streams and donor communities.” Click To Tweet

Did you know that after the first gift, data shows that donor retention is 23% compared to 60% donor retention after the second gift? The best way to retain your donors is to acknowledge their investment, build a relationship, and demonstrate impact. 

While there is value in widening your community of supporters, if you seek sustainability, realistic projections, and high-value donor relationships, focus first on current donors. As Stephen Stills puts it, “Love the one you’re with!” (See resources below for the song link to listen to while you read the show notes! :D)

360 Perspective on a Fundraising Portfolio: Retention is Queen

As fundraising consultants, LSC recommends organizations reviewing their shop to first focus on current donors. Are they stewarded? Are they satisfied? Are they being engaged in a way that is unique and meaningful to them? Can you “upgrade” any of them? Are you spending too much time on donors who are uninterested? How are your current donors helping you to engage new, prospective donors? Current donors should serve as your biggest and best advocates, testimony-givers, third-party-endorsers, networkers, and donors! 

In this episode of the Creating Community for Good Podcast, Ashley Dittmar shares how she uses technology paired with the human instinct to engage and retain giving to organizations, year-over-year. That repeat giving is called donor retention. Ashley is the Director Of Development at Crisis Text Line and a specialist in digital campaigns, donor retention, and storytelling. In this conversation, she shares techniques of building rapport with donors, perspectives on the value of retention, and the power of automated technology for meaningful interactions.

this episode, she shares with us the GAIL’s: Gremlin, Assumptions, Interpretations and Limiting Beliefs. These are four main types of thoughts that limit our potential and interrupt our growth in the fundraising sector — and in life! 

How many assumptions do we make based on first impressions without having true, reliable information? How many stories do we tell ourselves about our skills — and believe them to be true? How many times do we listen to the voice in our head that warns us about catastrophic results… that may not be real? There is power in challenging what we accept as true, and that change is what we need, personally and as a revolution in the non-profit sector. Join this conversation with the amazing Mallory Erickson and take a sneak peek into her mind-blowing strategies both for building your confidence as a fundraiser and to create better and more meaningful relationships with donors. Clue: it’s about shifting the paradigm from an ask to an offering.

First things first: 

Donor retention is a measure of how many donors continue to donate to your organization. Nonprofits with a high donor retention rate have long-term supporters who come back year after year. Nonprofits with a low donor retention rate need to continually acquire new donors or larger gifts to keep up. 

The average donor retention rate is hovering around 40-45% across the nonprofit sector. This means that if 100 donors give to your organization in a given year, then only about 40 of those donors will give again the following year.

Use this calculation to see how you measure up: 

(# of last year donors giving this year / # of donors last year) x 100 = donor retention % 

Donor retention is the most sustainable fundraising strategy above prospecting and new donor engagement. It takes approximately 3-4 new donors to replace a current donor. Do the math! It makes sense to retain who you have — and it makes sense logically, too. Make sure that your first-time donor doesn’t forget about you. Remember, these people were already motivated to act and support you once. Earn their trust, steward their investment, and encourage their long-term engagement. 

Technology is Your Friend

CRM tools are really useful when it comes to handling big databases and right now there are great ones out there that can help you organize data, visualize information, and create strategies. I know it may sound counterintuitive, but using technology can allow for closer and more human interaction. At the end of the day, donor retention is about slowly building profiles and relationships with people and thanking them for their support in ways that they feel are relevant. As Ashley says, we must always keep in mind that the nonprofit’s revenue comes from human beings who believe in your cause. Keep the faith alive! 

 Not all donors are the same. There are individuals with strategic giving plans, and then others who are impulse givers who respond to online appeals — and everything in between. And yes, the relationship may call for different strategies, but meaningful interactions are always important — and technology can help! Join this conversation with Ashley and me about true meaningful engagement and how technology can help you make your donors feel seen and appreciated. Believe me, even a templated but personalized thank you email, or a scripted (but not robotic) phone call can work wonders!

Key Takeaways: 

8:55 – “Your revenues are empowered by people, not ATMs!”: How to engage your donor community and make them feel seen and appreciated.

13:28 – Why Ashley absolutely loves using CRM tools to understand data and generate killer retention strategies.   

16:33 – Focus on retention first!: Remember, there are already golden donors in your database.

11:44 – From Excel to a CRM: How to level up and use key tools for more meaningful and personalized interactions. 

25:55 – Ashley’s golden rule for reaching out: “Do not go out of any conversation or meeting thinking you wasted that person’s time.”

29:21 – Truly engaging in a human way: The importance of getting to know your donors, who they are, and what they are passionate about. 

32:29 – “A happier you is a happier us”: How fundraising is truly Ashley’s calling and why that passion is exactly what we need.


Five Next Steps: 

  1. Set a plan: plan your work, and work your plan.
  2. Segment your donor portfolio: include options such as first-time donor, second-time donor, monthly giver, long-time giver, donor in active proposal stage, mission affinity variations, geographic relevance, etc. 
  3. Use technology: automate outbound messages to segments of donors that are relevant; and then customize a personal response to drive engagement and giving. 
  4. Communicate regularly: check in quarterly with newsletters, phone calls, (virtual) gatherings, etc.; include personal header, acknowledge giving and areas of interest and open the funnel of information about your organization including success stories, impact numbers/stats, and overall learnings/growth. 
  5. Pay attention: listen more than you talk and add notes in your CRM to ensure meaningful conversations and connections are had rather than one-way stream of info sharing. Ask high-value questions. 

By the numbers as of early 2020: 

Despite concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic would depress donations to nonprofits, giving in the U.S. in 2020 increased from 2019 by 10.6%, with the overall number of donors growing by 7.3%, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s 2020 Fourth Quarter Report.

Significant increases were seen at all levels of giving, with smaller gifts (less than $250) leading the way, growing by 15.3% compared to 2019. Larger gifts ($1,000 or more) increased by 10.4%, while mid-level gifts ($250 to $999) improved by 8.0%.

At the same time, donor retention, an important benchmark that tracks the percentage of donors who gave to a charity in 2019 and then gave to the same charity in 2020, dropped by 4.1%.

Connect Ashley Dittmar

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Episode Resources

Theme song: Love the One You’re With, Stephen Stills

32: Jen Risher | We Need to Talk… About Wealth

Retention Rate Decreased Resource: AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project 

We Need To Talk: A Memoir About Wealth by Jennifer Risher 

About Stacey Abrams | Fair Fight

Ashley Dittmar’s Bio and Key Recommendation: 

Do not calculate the annual donor retention at year end. Start on day one of the new fiscal year (with 0% or less than 1% retention), and watch your deliberate efforts over the course of the year move people from lapsed to retained and the percentage slowly increase over time. It makes your efforts more deliberate and provides small wins throughout the year that are not based solely on revenues. Over a year or two, orgs will see the revenues skyrocket, as well as have a more sustainable pipeline and engaged donor community.

Ashley Dittmar is the Director of Development at Crisis Text Line where she manages their multi-million philanthropic fundraising efforts, engaging a global community of supporters who share a similar vision to create an empathetic world where nobody feels alone. 

Previously, Ashley led development at the BlinkNow Foundation, working to create better futures for children and women in Surkhet, Nepal. During her tenure, Ashley doubled BlinkNow’s annual revenue and donor retention rates, she also established the organization’s first endowment. 

Before joining BlinkNow, Ashley spent 10 years living in sunny San Diego. She began her fundraising career at UC San Diego funding educational programs for low-income and first-generation students. Later she established and managed the first stewardship and donor relations program for The Rady School of Management, most notably working on a gift of $100M. Ashley then reignited her passion for international development work by spearheading the annual giving program at Project Concern International, focusing on innovative ways to retain donors and increase their annual giving. Ashley is an expert in donor retention strategies and has shared the wealth of her knowledge at numerous conferences and events. 

Ashley earned an MPA for Nonprofit Management and Leadership from the University of Southern California and a BA in International Business and Social Work from San Diego State University. Ashley has served on the Board of the Association for Fundraising Professionals in San Diego, was a Co-Founder of Classy Connect, and a Mentor at the Preuss School UCSD. You may find her traveling, spending time with her nephews, exploring NYC, or inspiring others to be involved in philanthropy.