Why January Is the Most Important Time for Donor Retention

4 min
January calendar
profile picture of Classy blog contributor Allison Gauss
Allison Gauss

The holidays are huge for nonprofits. In fact, over 25 percent of annual donation volume occurs from Giving Tuesday to year-end. Plus, it’s a time full of new donors. On days like Giving Tuesday and December 31, between 70 and 75 percent of one-time donations are brand new donors to organizations. Suddenly, your audience is bolstered with a group of newcomers and your community has experienced a growth spurt.

It’s tempting to celebrate a job well done, but how you follow up with, and hold onto, those new donors will play a big part in determining your success in the coming year. January is the time to connect with your donors, strengthen old relationships, and nurture new ones.

Donor Retention Matters

Think of all the first-time donors you gained last year, especially those won through your end-of-year campaign. According to current donor attrition trends, 81 percent of new donors will not give again. All those supporters you worked so hard to attract and convert can easily disappear. And that leaves you back at square one, starting the whole process over.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

By taking action now, you can retain more of your donors, both new and old and increase their long-term financial return.  All it takes are a few simple follow up steps to keep supporters from drifting away, and you can bolster your fundraising efforts throughout the coming year.

Get Key Retention Insights in The State of Modern Philanthropy 2019

Donor Retention Tips

Thank Them

As with any fundraising campaign, donors to your Giving Tuesday and year-end campaigns should receive a heartfelt “thank you,” followed by campaign results and impact. But January isn’t a time to just follow up with December donors—it’s the time to thank ANYONE who donated in the past year.

If someone donated six months ago, reaching out to thank them as the New Year begins sends the message that you not only appreciate their past help, but want to give them every opportunity to stay involved in the cause. Of course you should thank people for their recent gifts, but now is the time to express your gratitude for everyone’s contributions. Remind donors that whenever they gave, or however much, you appreciate it.

Read Next: The Ultimate Thank You for Nonprofits

Send Them Great Content

Impact stories are a great way to provide follow up that incentivizes continued action. This should be a normal part of your communication with donors. It shows them how their gift has gone on to make real change for your cause.

January is also when most organizations release their annual reports to supporters. This is a great opportunity to engage donors and make them want to do more. Be sure to include graphics, compelling stories, and your plans for next year.

It also pays to enter new donors into a welcome email series, and ultimately a cultivation funnel that receives regular messaging. Check out our free donor retention email templates to create quick and easy touch points.

Read Next: 13 Donor Retention Email Templates

Promote Monthly Giving

One way to make sure a donor keeps giving is to get them to commit to a monthly donation. For example, someone who first makes a $25 donation might commit to $5 a month. A year later, they have given more than double their original sum.

Classy’s own analysis shows that the average recurring donation is $37 and the median is $25. Through survival analysis, we were able to determine that over 75 percent of recurring givers continue their giving plans for at least six months and many continue to give for years.

Encourage your supporters to make giving a part of their New Year’s resolutions. Promote monthly donations as a way to show continued support and make the coming year a year to give back.

Bonus: Many people receive annual salary increases in January, which might make them more inclined to give more now that they make more.

Read Next: The 5 Must-Haves of a Monthly Recurring Revenue Campaign

Reengage with Upcoming Initiatives

Along with promoting the option to give monthly, keep your new and old donors in the loop for what’s next at your organization. While you don’t want to send another appeal right after saying “thank you,” you can let donors know about an upcoming event or milestone.

Maybe it’s sending out a save-the-date email for your run/walk in April, or perhaps it’s your upcoming 10th anniversary celebration. The point is to plant the seeds for future involvement. This keeps your organization top-of-mind and gives an impression of continual progress, but not necessarily continual appeals.

It’s also a good idea to inform donors about your peer-to-peer fundraising options. They may have a birthday coming up or be interested in running a marathon for charity this summer. Offer an example fundraising page to show how it’s done.


You’ve already done all the hard work of acquiring new donors, so it would be a shame to let them all slip away at the start of the year. While January is usually the beginning of a lull in the fundraising year, it can be a valuable chance to build relationships that will power your organization for years to come.

It may seem like extra work right now, but following up and connecting with donors at the beginning of the year will help you to fold new donors into your larger community—broadening your pool for when your next big campaign hits.

*Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in 2015 and has been updated with new information. 


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