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How to Make Every Donor a Lifetime Donor

By Allison Gauss
Man on iPhone

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Donor retention is the key to sustainability. When your donors keep coming back, your nonprofit doesn’t have to spend nearly as much time and resources on the expensive process of donor acquisition.

Unlike for-profit businesses, social impact organizations aren’t focused on making more and more money or even acquiring more and more customers; nonprofits exist to solve problems. So when you optimize the donor experience and maximize retention, you can focus on your mission.

In his keynote address at the 2017 Collaborative, Classy CEO and cofounder Scot Chisholm explained that one of the key principles that drives Classy is “every supporter deserves a remarkable giving experience.” From the content we produce to the product features we prioritize, we want to help nonprofits create the kind of donor experience that retains support and empowers organizations to grow their impact.

Read on to learn how a seamless experience and the ability to steward and nurture donors can keep your donors coming back and fuel your nonprofit’s future.

It Starts With Your Appeal

A lifetime donor begins with a one-time ask. Most people won’t jump right into a monthly gift (although a few wonderful people will), so your donor relationships will often begin with one well-crafted appeal.

Donors might encounter your ask…

  • In an email
  • On social media
  • On your website
  • In a piece of direct mail

Wherever they find the ask, make sure that you show them why they need to give. This means illustrating the problem your organization seeks to solve.

pencils of promise mission
Pencils of Promise clearly communicates the problem they seek to solve.

Next, show them how they can make a difference. This can come in the form of presenting a particular program, introducing an individual they can help, or equating certain donation sizes with certain resources or outcomes.

barbells for boobs donation impact
Barbells for Boobs shows how one donation makes an impact.

Finally, your appeal has to present the next step. If your ask is online, that will probably mean clicking a link to access the campaign or donation page. For direct mail, make it very clear how your audience can give. While some older donors may prefer to give by mail or phone, you should also give a donation page URL.

Pro Tip
Classy users can create custom URLs that are easy for donors to remember and find. Put a short, simple URL on pieces of direct mail.

Easy Donations = Happy Donors

However a donor arrives at your donation page, you want them to be confident that they’re in the right place and that their gift is securely processed. Classy’s fundraising platform is designed specifically to create this experience.

barbells for boobs donor experience
This donation page is customized with Barbells for Boobs’ logo, imagery, and colors.

When someone visits your campaign or donation page, there should be no question in their mind of whether they’re in the right place. Use the Campaign Designer to create pages with your organization’s logo, colors, imagery, and language. We’ve created the framework and done the coding, you just need to add the visuals that make the page yours.

Secure in the knowledge that they are in the right place to act on your appeal, supporters should be presented with a short and simple donation form to finish the giving process. Classy donation forms are designed to maximize conversion rate and eliminate distractions. In just a minute or two, donors can complete their gift and land on a thank you page. This gives an extra dose of confidence that their gift was successfully processed.

When they make a donation to a Classy page, your supporters will also automatically receive an email with their receipt and a thank you message (which you can customize). And, of course, the thank you page and email are branded with your nonprofit’s imagery and colors.

Forever Starts Now

You can’t generate ongoing support without ongoing engagement. While a strong appeal and an intuitive donation process will get people to make a gift and even be open to giving again, it’s what you do next that keeps the relationship alive. The most immediate step is to send a more detailed thank you message from someone at your nonprofit. While an automatic thank you and receipt provides confidence, a more heartfelt and personal message shows appreciation and makes donors feel recognized.

An important, but sometimes overlooked part of the donor experience is follow-up communications that show impact. Remember when you showed how donors can make a difference in your appeal? Send donors an update showing how their gift made an impact. This is when your story comes full circle, reinforcing donors’ trust in your organization and making them more likely to give again.

You can then use Classy’s reports to figure out how to make that next ask. Sort through the data to identify giving trends and segment donors based on their gift sizes and interests. For example, if a first-time donor gave to a specific program, you could appeal to them for a later campaign centered on this program.

You could also segment your donors by those who gave more or less than $100. Your next appeals would offer different giving levels for different segments. This helps ensure that you don’t leave money on the table or alienate small donors. Use information from past donations to help you make the next gift a meaningful, personalized experience.


A lifetime of support happens one gift at a time. That’s why every donation experience is so important. When you combine an actionable appeal with a smooth, branded donation process, your supporters can easily get involved. And when you follow up with appreciation and personalized communications, you nurture the kind of donor relationships you need to sustain your work and achieve your mission. Use these tips to turn every donor into a lifelong advocate.

The Donor Retention Handbook

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Learn how top nonprofits use Classy to power their fundraising.

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