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Donor Retention Strategies: Get Donors to Give Again


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Published August 19, 2022 Reading Time: 6 minutes

It’s the age-old question asked by development professionals everywhere.

“How do we retain our existing donors?”

The confusion persists because frankly, nonprofits still struggle to keep donor retention rates high year after year. At a quick, current glance, some accounts found the percentage of donors who gave in the first quarter of 2021 and then gave again in the first quarter of 2022 fell by 6.2%.

Free Download: The Donor Retention Checklist

That being said, don’t lose hope just yet. There are still steps you can take to keep your valuable supporters around and combat donor attrition. Here, we list best practices and donor retention strategies on how to keep supporters and motivate them to give again.

1. Demonstrate Your Impact

As a new donor, nothing is worse than feeling like your donation has disappeared into the abyss. Donors are too often left wondering how their money is being used and whether it will actually have an impact. And when you don’t know how your money is being used, you won’t be motivated to keep giving. Organizations must continually demonstrate how supporters’ contributions are making a difference in order to keep donor retention rates high.

How do you motivate and retain donors?

Not only do supporters want effective communication, but their decision to give again also hinges greatly on the organization’s ability to show what it can accomplish. Donors want to know how their money is being applied toward results that are lasting and effective.

Here are a few ways to demonstrate your impact to your constituents:

• Include impact stories in your newsletter. Your newsletter is a great tool you can use to keep new donors posted on your programs’ recent successes. These regular stories will help connect the dots between supporters’ contributions and the lasting change they help create.

• Use social media to document live impact stories. You don’t have to wait until your projects are over to show donors what you’ve accomplished. Broadcast your impact story on social media as it takes place, allowing supporters to follow along as your project unfolds step by step.

Encourage your fundraisers to share how they’re making a difference on social media too, especially as it’s an important channel to attract donors on mobile devices. In fact, 32% of the mobile traffic to peer-to-peer campaigns is from social media, according to The State of Modern Philanthropy 2022.

• Provide quarterly, biannual or annual reports. Occasionally provide donors a broader look at how your organization is making strides towards its mission. A larger report that details the effects of your programs against the problem you’re addressing can reinforce the importance of your organization and its work.

2. Get Personal With Your Thank-Yous

While saying thank you should be an obvious part of any organization’s donor retention strategy, it’s surprising how often this part can get glossed over.

Donors expect the usual auto-receipt. However, try stepping up your communications to show donors they mean much more to you than just a transaction. Add a personalized touch to your follow-up messages to really make your donors feel appreciated.

A handwritten note from staff, for instance, can make supporters feel instantly connected to the people behind your organization. Whenever possible and realistic, make it a priority to follow up donations with personal notes.

If it’s infeasible to send all your donors a personal letter, you can use segmentation to send different groups of donors a tailored thank-you email. The main point is to add a personalized touch to your communications. It’s the small details that help people believe they’re not just donors, but valued partners in your mission.

3. Contextualize Follow-Up

As you consider your donor retention strategies, remember that all donors are important, but they don’t all share the same connection to your organization. The way you choose to follow up with each group of supporters should be individualized to their own giving history. Like any other relationship, your donor database is likely to stay in the conversation when you are communicating in a way that’s relevant to them.

This means you need to segment your donors and build follow-up strategies for each group. You can use a CRM to track supporters’ giving habits, and an email marketing tool like HubSpot or MailChimp can help you set up tailored workflows or campaigns for different groups of contacts.

Try splitting up your contacts by the following criteria:

• The channel of acquisition: When it comes to first-time donors, it’s extremely important to tailor your follow up according to the context in which they donated. Did they respond to a direct appeal? Did they donate to a friend’s personal fundraising page? A direct approach might work for someone who responds to your direct appeal, but a third-party donor—one who gives to an organization because of the person asking, and not necessarily because of your appeal—would be better suited for a softer follow-up approach.

• Gift amount: Every gift amount makes a difference, but you may want to craft a special thank-you plan for large donors who commit to greater levels of support. Determine what gift amounts would warrant a personal phone call or letter from a staff or board member.

• Frequency of donations: Make sure to set apart a specialized donor engagement plan for recurring donors. Even here, you could drill down into different giving frequencies as well; Classy offers multiple recurring gift frequencies of daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually (every 6 months), and yearly (every 12 months). Lapsed donors should also receive customized messages reminding them of their previous donations.

• The programs they donate to: When you understand which programs donors are passionate about, you can whip up separate thank-you messages and follow-up emails that reference their interests. An easy way to learn your donors’ interests is to add custom questions to your donation pages.

4. Keep an Eye on Recurring Plans

Recurring gifts are a powerful way to both keep donor retention rates high and create a sustainable stream of income. Sustain these recurring plans by keeping a pulse on the right times to follow up with donors.

What is the average donor retention rate?

Your donor retention rate will depend on your organization, and can also be measured by churn which shows how many donations are canceled in a given year. For instance you can use these donor retention metrics from The State of Modern Philanthropy 2022.

  • Monthly donors are 1.4X more likely to churn in January than any other month
  • 23% of donors typically churn after 6 months from their first donation
  • Events are the campaign type most likely to lead to high churn rates within the first month after a first donation is made

Read more in The State of Modern Philanthropy 2022.

Make sure your holiday and year-end campaign strategies keep donors fired up into January about all that you’ve accomplished and all that you will accomplish together in the coming year.

We also found that on average, 10% of recurring donors churn after one month, 14% churn after three months, and 23% churn after six months. Check in with recurring donors around these milestones with images, stories, and statistics to keep them excited about their impact alongside your organization.

For more donor retention insights, download our full report.

5. Use Events to Further Nurture Donors

Events provide a unique opportunity for your supporters to interact with your brand and team on a personal, immersive level. Incorporate well-executed fundraising events into your donor retention strategy, and you can pull in new supporters or those who’ve only interacted with your web pages and deepen their sense of connection and loyalty to your organization.

In fact, 91% of event attendees are more likely to take further action with a nonprofit organization after a positive event experience, according to our 2022 Fundraising Event Experience Report.

When we drill further down into the actions of satisfied attendees, we find:

  • 51% attend future fundraising events held by the organization
  • 44% look for more ways to support the organization hosting the event
  • 33% fundraise on behalf of the organization

It’s clear that eventslive, virtual, or hybrid—belong in your donor retention strategies. Promote future events in your event follow-up to lock in repeat attendance, encourage attendees to consider recurring donations to make a lasting impact, and give them opportunities to fundraise through a DIY fundraising program. A stellar event experience can be a major key to longer donor lifetime value.

Get More Insights in the 2022 Event Sentiment Report

6. Surprise and Delight ‘Em

It’s one thing to keep up a conversation with donors, but it’s another to inspire and delight them. Steer away from making each message an ask, or a story about a person in need, and instead find playful ways to surprise donors and foster positive emotional connections with your organization. Reach out to donors in an unconventional, personalized manner that exceeds their expectations, and you can set your organization apart and strengthen donor loyalty.

To jumpstart your creative juices, here are a few ways you can provide a fresh take on donor communication:

• A humorous, creative email campaign

• Personalized shout-outs on Instagram Stories or Reels (cross-promoted across platforms for more publicity)

• Interactive Tweet chats or Zoom hangouts

• Instagram collages that express appreciation for supporters

 READ NEXT: 7 Tips to Create a Social Media Marketing Plan [Template]

7. Create a Feedback Loop

In the for-profit industry, there is a growing distinction between “customer service” and “customer success.” While the former is largely reactive (a customer initiates dialogue, and the organization listens), the latter is proactive (the organization initiates dialogue to understand a customer’s experience). There’s a reason why the latter approach is so effective: when you pay attention and reach out to patrons for feedback, you communicate you value the relationship and want to keep it healthy.

The same principle applies to the nonprofit community. Proactively asking supporters about your organization’s performance shows that you care about their donor experience. It can also give you valuable insight into how you can improve your retention efforts.

One way to create a feedback loop is to send out a survey, perhaps a day or two after a campaign. Check out tools like SurveyMonkey, KwikSurveys, and Typeform (my personal favorite) to build short questionnaires asking for honest responses and opinions about your communications. Not only will people be impressed by your proactive outreach, but you can also learn how you can improve your stewardship strategies.

Pro Tip: Prevent people from abandoning your survey by keeping it to about 10 minutes to complete.

Donor Retention Strategies to Deepen Relationships

Use this combination of donor retention strategies to deepen your connections and earn repeat actions from your community. Round up your team and continue to brainstorm ideas to buff up your organization’s donor retention strategies. You know your repeat donors best, so tailor your communications accordingly and strengthen those donor relationships.

graphic illustration of young man in purple sweatshirt working on laptop

The Donor Retention Checklist

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