The one thing that will boost participant retention

Kevin Wolfe
Kevin Wolfe

We’re routinely asked by our clients: “What’s the most important thing I can do that will really have an impact on my retention problem?” It's this:

Ask your lapsed participants to come back.

You’re probably thinking: “Isn’t that same thing as my general, time-to-register email?” Not really. If they haven’t signed up within a month of receiving your time-to-register email, they need personalized communications to encourage them to come back. We’ve created a simple, four-part plan to help you retain your participants:

1) Identify your lapsed participants

This is very easy for DonorDrive clients: We have a built-in Lapsed Participants Report they can run. If not using DonorDrive, you’ll need to compare last year’s participant list to this year’s registration list and segment those who haven’t registered yet. Do this about a month after registration begins. See if you’re able to spot any trends in this data set: a high rate of young participants, first-time participants or team members. These can often be clues as to what’s causing low retention.

It’s also worthwhile to segment this data into your most influential lapsed participants for separate messaging campaigns: team captains, big fundraisers, and advocates connected to the cause. If an individual participant has not returned and would have a big negative impact on your event, a phone call or personal email is in order to encourage them back.

2) Ask them back

All messaging to lapsed participants should thank them for their past contribution, show them the actual impact they had on the mission, and let them know the impact their participation could have this year. Personalize this email to include their fundraising dollars from last year. 

Some lapsed participants just need that one email as a reminder to register, but for most, one isn’t enough. Create a complete campaign for each segment. For example, in emails to team captains, emphasize the dollar figure of the total team impact they’re responsible for. In emails to captainless team members, encourage them to step up to the role of captain themselves.

3) Find out why they’re not back and fix it

After that first lapsed-participant email, send out a survey to your remaining lapsed participants to learn specifically why they’re not returning. Determine if there are common reasons so those can be addressed in messaging across your campaigns. Some of their reasons may be beyond your control, but many are simple fixes. If they had a bad experience last year, apologize and let them know what you’ve changed to address it. If they didn’t like the food, let them know you’ve added a slew of food trucks this year. If they had issues signing in last year, let them know how you’ve improved that process this year. Often people don’t return because they didn’t feel their contribution was appreciated. If that’s the case, a quick, personal email may be all it takes to convince them otherwise.

The key is to whittle away at their reasons for not coming back. DonorDrive client Wayne Baldaro of NAMIWalks says it’s about giving people a reason to say yes: If someone had to cancel their registration, I go through the steps of finding out why. If they had to work that day, I’d let them know that they could still participate as a virtual walker. I had someone who had a religious reason for bowing out and I asked them to stall their walk until the next day. They still got to participate. 

As part of their retention strategy, last yearNAMIWalk’s participants increased by 12%.

4) Suggest other ways to contribute

When the reasons for a participant not returning are beyond your control, give your lapsed participants fundraising options so they can still have an impact. Many DonorDrive clients offer virtual participation options. Virtual participants can still fundraise and be part of the event without having to physically be there. This is a useful option if the supporter has moved out of the area or has a conflict with the date. If you have another event they could participate in, invite them to that. You can also encourage them to set up a DIY campaign as another option.

By going through these steps, you’ll be adding several communications that your participants receive. Is all this communication too much? Probably not. DonorDrive client Jessica Scheps of Ride Closer to Free says: I’d rather hear: ‘I can’t stand getting your emails’ rather than: I’m not getting enough emails.  The retention rate for their ride is 70%.

Ready to learn more about how DonorDrive can help you?