7 Donor Retention Tips for Growing Organizations

Looking to improve your nonprofit’s donor retention rate? Check out these seven tips to help your growing organization maintain donor support over time.

February 17, 2023

As a nonprofit professional at a growing organization, much of your focus is likely on reaching new donors to build your audience and increase awareness of your mission. However, it’s also equally (if not more) important to boost your donor retention rate. 

Donor retention is the number of donors who give to your organization again after giving previously within a specified time period. Donor retention is typically calculated year-to-year. 

If you’re stuck at a low donor retention rate, you’ll have to expend time and resources on continuously reaching out to and acquiring new donors. On the other hand, retaining donors gives your organization access to a loyal group of supporters who continue to bolster your organization year after year. 

Whether you’re conducting virtual fundraising efforts, in-person fundraising events, or launching a major fundraising push such as a capital campaign, you’ll need the support of both new and existing donors. Conducting donor stewardship efforts year-round can help boost donor retention and provide this much-needed support. 

This guide will provide your growing organization with tips for launching an enhanced donor stewardship strategy to boost donor retention. Top retention strategies include: 

  1. Thank donors frequently and genuinely. 
  2. Ask for donors’ feedback.
  3. Practice donor segmentation. 
  4. Show the impact of donors’ gifts. 
  5. Simplify the giving process. 
  6. Invite supporters to participate in a wide variety of activities.
  7. Reach out to past supporters.

When you integrate these donor stewardship and retention efforts into your organization’s fundraising plans, you can give your growing nonprofit the foundation it needs to be able to raise more. You’ll be able to spend less time on acquiring new donors and more time actually carrying out your nonprofit’s mission. Let’s dive in!

1. Thank donors frequently and genuinely. 

As Bloomerang’s donor retention guide states, one of the most common reasons for donor lapse or churn is that donors don’t hear from the nonprofit or don’t feel much appreciation for their gift. Sending thank-you messages to donors is one of the easiest ways to avoid this outcome and keep supporters engaged in your mission. 

You should send an automated thank-you message immediately after donors contribute, but take your appreciation efforts a step further than this as well. A few ways you can show donors that your appreciation is genuine include sending handwritten thank-you notes, taking the time to identify and thank your Facebook fundraisers, and posting social media shout-outs to highlight specific donors. 

As you craft your donor thank-you letters, make sure that they:

  • Are personalized. Using a donor’s preferred name in your thank-you letter to them makes the message feel much more authentic and personal. 
  • Reference specific contributions. Donors will be able to see through generic thank-you messages, which read as disingenuine. Ensure your thank-you letters reference each donor’s specific gift amount, as well as any particular campaign they contributed to, so they feel seen and appreciated as individuals. 
  • Leave the door open for future engagement. A well-crafted thank-you letter can be a stepping stone toward further donor engagement. At the end of your letter, reference a few upcoming events on your calendar, such as volunteer opportunities or advocacy campaigns. Doing so gets your supporters thinking about ways they might stay involved with your organization in the future. 

You should use these strategies to thank all supporters, but be sure to focus additional stewardship efforts on your major donors. 

Since major donors likely contribute the bulk of your organization’s funding, you should consider additional strategies for developing and maintaining highly personalized relationships with them. You can invite them to a special appreciation event, organize one-on-one meetings or phone calls with them to personally thank them for their support, or personally share upcoming opportunities for involvement, such as volunteer activities. 

Overall, a solid, well-rounded acknowledgment strategy is the first pillar of building stronger donor relationships and boosting your retention rate.

2. Ask for donors’ feedback.

Your donor relationships should be a two-way street. You’re asking your donors to contribute their hard-earned dollars to support your mission. You can return the favor by asking for their feedback and working to incorporate their comments into your future activities. 

This makes supporters feel like equal partners in carrying out your organization’s mission, giving them a larger stake in your success. 

You can acquire supporter feedback by sending surveys via email. Ask them questions such as:

  • What inspired you to start giving to our organization?
  • Do you believe our organization makes it clear how your donations support our work? 
  • How would you rate your experience as a member (of our community)?
  • What types of activities would you like to hear more about? (volunteering, peer-to-peer fundraising, advocacy efforts, etc.)
  • What aspects of our mission are the most appealing to you?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share that you think would improve your experience as a member (of our community)?

These questions allow supporters to make their voices heard. They also give your organization valuable insight into what drives donors to start and continue their support. You can incorporate this feedback into future marketing campaigns to produce content that resonates with the largest swath of your audience, as well as use individual results to guide segmentation.

For instance, let’s say your supporters felt most inspired to give because of the aspect of your mission that focuses on children’s rights and welfare. You can focus on this element of your mission in future fundraising campaigns to drive greater donor engagement. 

3. Practice donor segmentation. 

Donor segmentation is the process of grouping donors based on shared characteristics. When you create donor segments, you can send relevant information to each group. People are more likely to engage with your messages if they’re relevant to their preferences and interests. 

There are plenty of different ways you can group donors, depending on your fundraising goals. For instance, you may choose to separate donors by frequency/donation type and create groups of: 

  • New donors
  • Occasional donors
  • Major donors
  • Lapsed donors

Doing so allows you to craft tailored messages to each group rather than just send mass messages that might not be relevant or interesting to all of your supporters. For instance, when you create a segment for new supporters, you can send a welcome series of emails to introduce your organization and provide them with the background information they need to get more involved. 

If you’ve never attempted donor segmentation before or don’t know where to start, this could be a good opportunity to partner with a fundraising consultant. Donorly’s fundraising consultant guide explains that these professionals provide guidance and resources for growing organizations to start fundraising beyond their size. 

A fundraising expert can provide the necessary experience and knowledge of donor segmentation so your organization can speak to each segment of your audience more effectively. 

4. Show the impact of donors’ gifts. 

After donors contribute to your cause, they want and deserve to know how your organization used the funds. By informing supporters of the impact of their donations, you cultivate transparency and trust, which often leads to improved donor retention. 

Include both statistics and personal stories about donations’ impact in your thank-you messages, social media posts, email newsletters, and direct mail flyers or postcards. For instance, perhaps your annual Giving Day fundraiser helped fund the construction of a new garden at the local community center. Or, perhaps your year-end fundraising push enabled your organization to enroll 20 more children in a free-books program. 

Whatever the case may be, make sure to close the loop and let donors know that their contributions weren’t for nothing. When supporters see all that their donations helped accomplish, they’ll feel more excited about your organization and encouraged to give again. By highlighting completed projects and direct assistance offered to community members, donors will be able to see first-hand how that supporting your organization is worth it.

5. Simplify the giving process. 

To maintain donor engagement, it’s important to do everything you can to make the giving process as simple as possible. You must show donors that you respect their time. 

Be sure to streamline all fundraising channels, whether it’s your virtual fundraising efforts, direct mail fundraisers, or in-person events. Ensure that your donation forms don’t overwhelm supporters by asking them to submit tons of personal information. Simplify your giving pages so that they only ask for necessary information, such as names, contact information, and payment details. 

In this process, you can also show donors how their contributions can make an even larger impact on your cause than they might have initially thought. You can explain various giving opportunities that simplify the process of turning one-time donations into multiple gifts with a larger impact. Two such opportunities include: 

  • Matching gifts: In matching gift programs, companies pledge to match donations that their employees make to eligible nonprofits. Companies often match donations at a 1:1 ratio, but some offer 2:1, 3:1, or even 4:1. Use your marketing and fundraising channels to promote matching gift opportunities and encourage donors to research their eligibility. These programs allow donors to maximize the impact of their gift in just a few quick steps. 
  • Recurring gifts: You can boost your donor retention rate by encouraging supporters to sign up for recurring gifts. Recurring gifts, such as a monthly giving program, are a simple way for donors to maintain their support without having to fill out your donation page each time. They’ll simply check a box to turn their one-time donation into a recurring gift, and they’ll be automatically charged each time. 

Often, the greatest barrier that keeps supporters from taking advantage of matching gift programs or signing up for recurring gifts is a lack of awareness. By simplifying the giving process and promoting matching and recurring gift opportunities, supporters will be more likely to take advantage of these opportunities. 

6. Invite supporters to participate in a wide variety of activities.

Don’t let the only time supporters hear from you be when you’re asking for donations. Supporters will start to feel like an ATM rather than a valued contributor to your organization’s success.

When you offer supporters a wide range of ways to engage with your cause, you can maintain their interest and provide opportunities for support that don’t just involve donating. Plus, you can provide an opportunity for supporters to stay involved even if they don’t have the financial capacity to contribute a monetary gift. 

Your donors already have a proven track record of supporting your nonprofit, so they’re likely interested in getting involved in other activities such as:

  • Volunteering: Volunteering is a great way for donors to get hands-on experience working with your nonprofit and form a stronger connection with your organization. 
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising: In a peer-to-peer fundraiser, supporters are empowered to act as fundraisers on behalf of your organization. This is an effective way for supporters to stay engaged with your mission without having to donate. 
  • Advocacy: Your organization may be involved with a variety of political and/or social movements. Recruit supporters to become advocates for your cause by empowering them to share information on social media, contact representatives, or attend meetings. 

By presenting supporters with several avenues to get involved, you’ll show them how their involvement with your organization means more than just their monetary donations. There are plenty of ways to give back, and supporters will respect your efforts to complement a wide range of interests. 

7. Reach out to lapsed donors. 

One of the easiest ways to understand why donors stop giving to your organization is simply to ask. When you know the reasons behind donor lapse, you can start addressing them in your donor stewardship strategy to mitigate any future instances of churn. 

To discover why donors stop supporting your nonprofit, send a survey out to all lapsed donors. Be sure to start your message with a genuine greeting and thanking them for their previous support before launching into your questions. 

In the survey, ask questions like:

  • What caused you to stop giving?
  • What would cause you to start giving again?

You should also reach out to past advocates such as peer-to-peer fundraisers and volunteers. You never know if these past supporters might be interested in getting involved in your mission again, and maybe even donating. 

By reaching out to lapsed donors, you can determine why they decided to stop giving and perhaps even influence a few to start giving again. You never know— perhaps a lapsed donor will review your courteous email and become inspired to donate again because of it!

As your organization grows, it’s important to turn your focus as a fundraising professional toward your plans for boosting donor retention. With the proper stewardship efforts in place, you can turn one-time donors into long-term supporters who provide your organization with reliable assistance. 

Keep in mind that these donor retention strategies are meant to engage supporters without overwhelming them. Create and stick to a communication cadence that balances donation requests with other updates and opportunities. Doing so will allow you to avoid annoying donors while engaging them in everything your organization has to offer. Good luck!

About the Author:

Sandra Davis

Founder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts,

and managed board development and recruitment efforts, planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.