Disaster Donor Retention – Reprise

Like you, over the past several weeks our attention has been focused on Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma and the destructive paths that they’ve carved through the U.S. And as our managing partner Bill returns home from his 2nd evacuation in less than 12 months, our thoughts and prayers are with the many people who were affected by the storms.

But, as we did last year at this time after Hurricane Matthew, we think it’s a good time to look at the trends of new donors who respond to natural disasters and their retention in the following year – or lack thereof.

Below is a graph for a social services nonprofit in an area hit by a natural disaster in FY13. This graph shows the number of new donors acquired each year. There was an 88% spike in the number of new donors in FY13, then a 58% decrease in new donors the next year.

And below is the overall retention for the same organization. Their overall Retention dropped 12% – from 53% to 46% in the year after the disaster (although retention recovered nicely in FY15).

And in FY14, Second Year Donor Retention dropped 30%, from 6 to 18%!

Sometimes, there’s little that can be done to increase these new donors’ retention. They are motivated to give by the disaster and may not be converted to give to the organization’s overall mission.

In surveys, many donors don’t even consider themselves donors TO the organization, but instead to the event. “I gave to Hurricane Matthew”, NOT “I gave to XYZ Organization.”

Still, these donors should receive all of the stewardship that could convince them convert to a long-term donor: prompt thank you letters thanking them specifically for their gift to the disaster (not a general thank you referencing general programs), thank you phone calls and then follow-up reports 6-months and 12-months after the disaster showing what the organization has done with the donor’s help.

But, even more importantly may be to plan for the future: budget for the increase in mailing costs from the influx of new donors and be prepared that these donors may not give next year and that giving metrics may be down.

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