How to reduce attrition 50% by doing (almost) nothing

Published by Charlie Hulme on

This is how my daughter plays hide and seek. She thinks if she can’t see me then I can’t see her. EM hide and seek

In defence of her strategy she’s only two years old. But isn’t this exactly the same approach we take with the people we label our ‘supporters’? We act like if we didn’t hear about a ‘supporters’ experience, good or bad, like it didn’t happen.

Everyday your organization has numerous interactions with donors across all channels. These interactions range from great to neutral, all the way through to terrible. The experience of that interaction determines at least 50% of your ‘supporters’ decision whether to interact with you again. So what is your organization doing to monitor and act on those experiences, to ensure ‘supporters’ actually support?

If you’re like the overwhelming majority of charities out there the answer will be ‘nothing’. And so a broken experience, for example, on your donation page, in your retail store or with donor services stays broken. Or a great opportunity to build on the warm glowe of a positive experience in the moment is lost. All that we measure and monitor is the transactional data gathered long after the experience happened.

But that data can never tell you just how much money you could have raised, but lost. And it can never tell you why you lost it!

It can’t ever tell you why someone went to your donation page but didn’t donate. It can’t ever tell you what they like about your e-news and how it’s affecting their decision the next time they receive an appeal. It can only tell you what happened. It can never tell you why.

That’s the reason you can’t buy anything these days without being asked for your feedback about the experience. It’s not because the commercial world cares more about its customers than we do our ‘supporters’ (although based on the fact they seek and act on feedback and we don’t, who can argue we care more?) It’s because they know that the best time to fix a broken experience, or build on a great one, is in the very moment that it happens. And because they know that the only way to find out is to ask.

EM foundJust the mere act of offering the opportunity to feedback causes massive lift in behaviour. Our research involving donors to 250+ non-profit organizations in the U.S.A., Canada and the U.K. found that for every donor who provides feedback their retention increases 15 points. And this happens before you actually do anything about it!

One charity that’s got into the business of listening and acting has reported a 93% resolution rate and twice the rate of up-sell and cross-sell for those providing feedback about their supporter care experience.

What are we waiting for? Recently the Agitator made online feedback tools available for free (free!) forever. It takes 5 minutes (tops) to set up and requires zero staff time. The results they reported were staggering, including a 50% drop in attrition for those given the opportunity to give feedback (not a typo!)

If everyone from multi-national corporations to my local curry house has got into the business of asking for and acting on feedback isn’t it time we did?



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Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Charlie is MD of Donor Voice. He helps charities uncover what, of all the things they do, cause relationship strength and what is harmful. Partners see a massive improvement in performance, value and retention. Voted top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising's National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101 Fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.


Alison · January 22, 2015 at 16:06

The title of this post is catchy, and yes it made me read the post, but the doing (almost) nothing to actually *close the feedback loop* is a big problem in the nonprofit sector. (Closing the loop means reading, analyzing, responding to, learning from, and changing in response to the feedback.) Yes, as fundraisers our job is to meet our goals and bring in donations. So yay, retention. But if we’re not constantly improving our processes, our programs, and our services, we’re doing everyone in our community a disservice in the long run.

    Charlie Hulme · March 5, 2015 at 09:34

    Hi Alison, sorry for late reply!

    You’re absolutely right that we must be constantly improving our process, programs and services. But the big question is ‘how’? How do we know what is and isn’t working for our supporters? All we have is their transactional data which tells us zero about the ‘why’ of their behaviour. So all we can do is make ‘improvements’ based on guesswork rather than empirical, supporter led, data.

    The ‘almost’ refers to mind-set; if we can afford to lose so many donors years after year, and lose loads more money chasing them for several years more, surely we can afford to reassign some of that time, energy and spend to where it could actually have an improvement? By that I mean doing exactly what you’re suggesting; closing the feedback loop. If we don’t we can’t possibly hope to improve anything and will be forever going round in ever decreasing circles (will stop before this turns into a blog!)

Margaux Smith · January 25, 2015 at 22:30

Gosh, those numbers are staggering. Can we figure out how to involve more supporter feedback in the F2F recruitment process? The biggest area of attrition in our sector?? Should all the best fundraising minds be trying to figure that one out?

    Charlie Hulme · February 4, 2015 at 14:01

    Absolutely, along with every other source of recruitment (F2F in and of itself doesn’t cause attrition – if the buckets leaking there’s nothing wrong with the tap!) Trouble is hardly anyone’s looking beyond the next big recruitment push to care enough that most of those they recruit won’t stick around, and that the rest are going to be very unprofitable. It’s tragic because a simple shift in mindset from seeing donor service as a cost to a profit canter could have a radical impact on mission

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