Disaster Donor Retention

As our managing partner Bill recovers from Hurricane Matthew, it’s a good time to look at the trends of new donors who respond to natural disasters and their following year retention – 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.


Here 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 26% to 18%!


Often, 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 make 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), follow-up information about the cause they’ve supported and how they’ve helped, and thank you phone calls for certain levels of giving.

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.

After all, “There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.” (Stephen King)

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