Reducing Donor Churn With Wilbraham & Monson Academy

This year at CASE NAIS, our very own Mike Nagel traveled to Atlanta to join Mark Aimone, Director of Advancement at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in a session titled “Activating the Giving Funnel” during which they talked about all the ways WMA is reducing donor churn.

Wilbraham & Monson Academy is an independent boarding and day school located in Wilbraham, MA. The school is home to 400 students in grades 6-12, half of whom board. W&M is also home to a large international student population, with 30% of students representing 33 countries outside of the United States. They have an advancement staff of nine with six frontline fundraisers and a goal of $1.1 million for their Annual Fund this year. 

Faced with a situation that confronts nearly every independent school — declining or flat donor growth coupled with lower-than-they’d-like donor retention — WMA decided to take a new approach that’s modeled after for-profit sales and marketing. Their development team has leveraged data and technology to flip the typical giving pyramid approach to deliver a major gift level experience to 1,200 mid-level donors. 

Here are the 3 major lessons they learned along the way:

1. Focus on Reducing Donor Churn

From the beginning, WMA’s goal has been to grow their annual fund. Recruiting net new donors is great, but it is just as important to retain existing donors. The team knew their donor retention rate (58%) was lower than the independent school average of 71%, and sought out to improve that rate. 

Mark’s team is starting to make changes with the ultimate goal of approaching a 90% retention rate, knowing they had to retain as many of their 2,500 $1K+ recent donors as possible in order to grow their annual fund and begin identifying a new generation of major gift donors. Engaging constituents is just as much about improving donor retention and increasing average gift size as it is about recruiting new donors. 

2. Personalize Everything

At the beginning of their journey, Mark and the WMA team outlined specific expectations and assigned each staffer a portfolio of ~200 prospects. These were split; half reactivation targets and half retention prospects. Staffers are expected to deliver five touches per day to their portfolio.

These 25 touches per week are personalized, custom, and interest-driven to create a truly donor-centric experience. The WMA team got creative, using social insights and TrueView data to deliver a major gift level experience to each donor. For example, one donor with a giving history and Facebook engagement on science-related topics received a personal video from a chemistry classroom where students shared what they were working on that day and thanked him for his support.

Through modern technology, the WMA team has been able to customize their constituent interactions and truly build relationships with donors.

3. Try Something New

Here at EverTrue, we’re all about taking risks and trying something new. After all, how can you know what will help you improve if you never try anything different? Our friends at WMA feel the same way. They recognize that the strategies we’ve all been using are tired and unsustainable. We have to try something different to break from the pattern of donor decline. Inevitably, not every strategy will be successful, but that’s part of the fun!

This past Dember, WMA set out to target tech savvy, millennial alumni by promoting a live webinar with school leadership. The webinar was a quick 45-minutes, focused on student life, and took place in the middle of the day, so as to catch young alumni during their lunch break. 

However, not everything can go according to plan. Of the 46 alumni that logged on to watch the webinar, only four were from the target classes. The majority were retired alumni from classes 1947 – 1974 that wanted to remain connected to campus. While this wasn’t what the team intended, they were still able to engage with these alumni in a unique way and carry lessons with them to their future ideas. 

 Activating the Giving Funnel with Wilbraham & Monson Academy from EverTrue


Interested in learning more? Let’s chat about how EverTrue can help your school reduce donor churn.

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