7 Donor Retention Tips for Growing Organizations

May 31, 2023

Whether you’ve just started a nonprofit or you’re a seasoned fundraising professional, you know that donors make your work possible. This is why donor retention is such a big focus for the nonprofit world—when you can retain your donors’ interest and support, you can do more for the beneficiaries you serve. 

And donor retention isn’t just about having a steady source of revenue, though that stability is definitely a goal to reach for. Donor retention also helps your nonprofit focus on developing and maintaining genuine, lasting relationships with the people who believe in your mission and want to see you succeed. And when those relationships are strong, support can manifest itself in many ways, from spreading awareness of your mission and logging volunteer hours to supporting a capital campaign

Of course, strengthening your donor retention approach is often easier said than done. To help, we’ve rounded up seven top strategies for your growing organization to leverage. 

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

1. Thank donors frequently and genuinely. 

A common reason for donor lapse or churn is that donors don’t hear from the nonprofit or don’t feel appreciated for their contributions. 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 always send an automated thank-you message immediately after donors contribute, but you can also take your appreciation efforts a step further. A few ways you can show donors that your appreciation is genuine include sending handwritten thank-you notes, sharing your gratitude on platforms like Facebook, and giving small gifts like your organization’s branded merchandise.

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. 
  • Open the door for future engagement. A well-crafted thank-you letter can be a stepping stone toward further engagement. At the end of your letter, reference a few upcoming opportunities on your calendar, such as fundraising events or volunteering activities. 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, or personally share upcoming opportunities for involvement. 

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 - and act on it.

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 could we improve in this area? 
  • 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 your audience, and use individual results to guide segmentation.

For instance, 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 for each group. This eliminates the need for sending non-relevant or non-compelling messages to your supporters. For example, 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 expert guidance and resources for growing organizations to start fundraising beyond their size. 

A fundraising expert can provide the necessary donor segmentation experience and knowledge 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 their donations’ impact in your thank-you messages, social media posts, email newsletters, and annual reports. For instance, perhaps a recent major gift helped fund the construction of a new garden at the local community center. Or, maybe your year-end fundraising push enabled your organization to enroll 20 more children in a math tutoring program. 

Whatever the case may be, make sure to provide closure 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 be encouraged to give again. By highlighting completed projects and direct assistance offered to community members, donors will be able to see firsthand why 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—keep things simple by requiring only necessary information like contact information and payment details. 

In the 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: Crowd101 explains that through matching programs, companies pledge to match donations that their employees make to eligible nonprofits. Companies often match donations at a 1:1 ratio, but some may offer a higher match. Use your marketing and fundraising channels to promote matching gift opportunities and encourage donors to research their eligibility. 
  • Recurring gifts: You can boost your donor retention rate by encouraging supporters to sign up for recurring gifts. Recurring gifts, such as those donated through a monthly giving program, are a simple way for donors to maintain their support without having to fill out a 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 convenient giving opportunities is a lack of awareness. By simplifying the giving process and actively promoting matching and recurring gifts, supporters will be more likely to use these opportunities to contribute.

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

Let supporters hear from you in advance of asking for donations. Make them feel like valued contributors to your organization’s success rather than ATMs!

Instead, offer supporters multiple ways to engage with your cause. This way, 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 be showing them how their engagement with your organization represents added value to 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 past donors. 

One of the easiest ways to understand why donors stop giving to your organization is simply by asking. When you know the reasons behind donor lapse, you can start addressing them in your donor stewardship strategy to mitigate future 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 thank 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?
  • What other nonprofit organizations are you currently supporting? 

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.

Donor retention is important for securing your nonprofit’s financial future, but it’s also important for continuing to build a community of passionate supporters who want to see your organization succeed. Use these seven tips to begin improving your organization’s donor relationships today!

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.