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Nonprofit Solutions to Combat Donor Attrition

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Published January 8, 2024 Reading Time: 6 minutes

Giving Tuesday and other end-of-year fundraising campaigns can significantly buoy donor acquisition for nonprofit organizations. However, sustained success hinges on robust donor retention rates.

According to Classy’s The State of Modern Philanthropy 2022 report, monthly recurring donors are 40% more likely to churn in January than any other month. Additionally, our 2023 report found that 70% of donors never give again after their first transaction.

Donor attrition can impact a nonprofit’s ability to cultivate long-term donor relationships that provide sustainable revenue and positive brand recognition. Below, we cover nine tips to prevent this turnover and continue fostering strong, dedicated communities.

1. Level Up Your Thank-Yous

A simple way to lessen donor attrition is to get serious about thanking supporters. Taking the time to thank your donors (without immediately asking them for another gift) shows how much you value their contributions and view them as key members of your community.

Take a personalized, multichannel approach to show your appreciation. While sending an automatic donation receipt is a critical first step, reaching out more personally after a donor gives to your organization can significantly impact their likelihood to return.

For larger donations, consider making a quick phone call to thank the supporter. You can also mail personalized letters from your staff or board members, send friendly email follow-ups, or provide branded swag as a token of gratitude.

Hosting a donor appreciation event is another memorable way to connect with supporters. While you wouldn’t directly solicit donations at these events, you can creatively showcase your mission and how donors have made it a reality thus far. These meaningful interactions leave guests emotionally gratified, encouraging future giving.

In general, examine whether you devote equal time and attention to thanking and stewarding donors as you do trying to acquire them.

2. Understand Your Potential Channels for Donor Attrition

With donor follow-up, context matters. As you gather ideas for engaging with new and existing donors, consider how they became supporters in the first place:

How you acquired a donor can guide your continued stewardship outreach. For example, new donors from peer-to-peer campaigns likely gave to your organization because they care about the person fundraising on your behalf, such as a friend or family member, rather than personal interest in your mission.

To prevent donor attrition for this cohort, your engagement plan should focus heavily on educating those individuals on your work and how it impacts the lives of others. Be specific about your impact story in these conversations to ensure they understand exactly what you do and why you do it.

It can also be helpful to initiate a conversation with these individuals about the friend or family member who spearheaded the peer-to-peer campaign they supported. Ask questions about their connection to that person and the reasons behind their decision to contribute to their fundraising efforts. Tapping into the emotional connection can be a powerful strategy, fostering receptivity to the concept of independently supporting your cause.

3. Decode and Leverage Your Nonprofit’s Donation Fluctuations

The nonprofit sector often sees changes in the number of donors year over year in addition to other individual nonprofit metrics, like page and sitewide traffic, conversion rates, and average donation amounts.

When you investigate these donation fluctuations in your donor data, identify opportunities and establish benchmarks to help your nonprofit track and reach new goals.

For example, if your numbers for new one-time donations are up but your recurring donations trend downward, that’s a red flag to reassess your donor stewardship process and optimize it for monthly supporters.

To avoid this potential red flag, be proactive in finding ways to reconnect recurring donors with your mission each time they give.

Ask These 11 Questions to Up-Level Your Recurring Giving Program

4. Provide Tailored Giving Experiences

When structuring a program to prevent donor attrition, segment donors into buckets based on data like donation amounts, acquisition channels, or giving preferences. This helps view each group of donors individually and tailor their donor experiences accordingly.

Tailored giving experiences should meet each donor where they are and center on the knowledge you learn about your supporters’ preferences, including:

  • Offering different campaign types and on-ramps to giving
  • Streamlining the conversion process with embedded donation forms
  • Adopting flexible cash and noncash payment options

You may also want to consider how you communicate with different cohorts. For example, spend additional time crafting a thank-you strategy for major donors, as they’ve committed more resources to your organization. These donors may also prefer a proposal that suggests a range of giving options to select from rather than a standard end-of-year request.

5. Focus on Early Conversions to Monthly Giving

The largest hurdle of this donor attrition challenge is converting one-time donors into repeat supporters. How might you convert more first-time donors into monthly donors from the start?

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project from the Association of Fundraising Professionals found that the average donor retention rate in 2022 was just 42.6%, with that figure trending downward in 2023.¹‚²

This is critical for several reasons, but one of the most poignant is that recurring donors are nine times more valuable than one-time donors, as their lifetime value creates sustainable, reliable annual revenue.

Encouraging supporters to set up automatic monthly, quarterly, or yearly donations in the early interactions with your cause increases the likelihood of long-term commitment, making donor retention more manageable.

Our State of Modern Philanthropy 2023 report found that 29% of first-time donors who become recurring donors do so within the first 90 days of their initial gift. This early phase, when donors are enthusiastic and inspired, presents the most opportune time for a recurring donation appeal.

6. Lean into the Power of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

When a current donor opts to participate in peer-to-peer fundraising, your nonprofit is given an opportunity to connect with new constituents from that individual’s wider network.

Additionally, that fundraiser likely feels a deep connection to your cause, as they’re publicly declaring it as a crucial piece of their identity worth their community’s time and investment. Keep that in mind as you move forward, ensuring your nurture strategy is optimized to retain their ongoing support and potentially up-level their engagement.

Leverage peer-to-peer fundraising to deepen relationships with current donors and initiate warm introductions to new ones. On Classy, 80% of people who contribute to a peer-to-peer campaign are brand new to that organization.

Make the process easy for your fundraisers with campaign page templates, sample language, and photos they can use and customize. All of that and more can be included in your branded fundraiser toolkit.

7. Use Your Tech Stack for Unforgettable Donor Experiences

A customer relationship management (CRM) platform can help your nonprofit keep track of its donor database and tailor your fundraising strategy accordingly. With the right CRM integration, you can create meaningful connected fundraising experiences for supporters.

For example, integrations like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Klaviyo can help your nonprofit deliver standout personalized storytelling to resonate with defined donor audiences. You can also cross-share these to social media to connect with new potential donors and strengthen your brand recognition.

Additional technology integrations can assist with everything from virtual events and e-commerce options to actionable donor reports and improved customer service. Make the most of your technology by using it to improve the donor experience, decreasing the chances of donor attrition.

8. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is one of the primary pillars of nonprofit fundraising, which we covered in more detail in our webinar series, Unlock Generosity. It’s a key way of connecting existing donors and prospective supporters to the heart of your organization and showing them how their gifts make a difference.

Here are some top ways to ensure your storytelling has the most possible impact:

  • Personalize: Use donor data to share tailored stories with diverse audiences. Amplify your narratives with compelling details, quotes, and firsthand experiences. Use emojis and informal communication to come across in a more relatable way.
  • Be authentic: Share stories of individual beneficiaries of your work. Put a face to your work to build trust with your audience. Use unique perspectives to add depth to your stories.
  • Use psychology: Craft successful storytelling that involves speed, volatility, volume, and circuitousness. Learn more in our blog, The Psychology of Storytelling.
  • Share often: Weave storytelling into multiple channels and at different frequencies. Send monthly newsletters with key stories. Highlight individuals and progress on social media. Publish an annual report that tells the story of your impact over time.

Whenever you interact with new or recurring donors, think of that touchpoint as a storytelling opportunity you don’t want to miss.

9. Create Feedback Loops

It’s easy to stagnate if you don’t solicit feedback on your performance. Reach out to donors (ones you’ve retained over time and ones you’ve lost) periodically to ask them how you’re doing.

Make it a monthly habit to call a few supporters for a quick conversation. Ask them what they like about your organization, what they’d like to see change, and why they stopped or continued giving. You can also send out donor feedback surveys quarterly or annually to collect a wider range of opinions.

You may offer a small gift or branded merchandise to increase participation in exchange for a donor’s time. Let them know that your goal is to gather honest feedback to continue to improve your operations and the overall donor experience.

Don’t forget to follow up with supporters later to share how you’ve incorporated their feedback. This not only helps donors feel appreciated and more likely to stick around but also helps them trust that your organization always tries to do its best.

How to Craft Effective Post-Event Survey Questions

Harness Thoughtful Donor Engagement to Decrease Donor Attrition

While you can’t stop donor attrition entirely, you can proactively lower your donor attrition rate as much as possible.

Use all the tools available to your nonprofit, from technology and diverse campaign types to thoughtful thank-you notes and powerful storytelling, to keep donors returning year after year.

Copy Editor: Ayanna Julien

Article Sources:

1. “2022 Fundraising Showed Substantial Weakness Through Q4,” Fundraising Effectiveness Project, last modified April 16, 2023, https://afpglobal.org/2022-fundraising-showed-substantial-weakness-through-q4.

2. “FEP 2023 Q3 Quarterly Fundraising Report,” Fundraising Effectiveness Project, accessed December 28, 2023, https://afpglobal.org/sites/default/files/attachments/generic/FEP%202023%20Q3%20Report_Updated.pdf.

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The Donor Retention Checklist

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