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Inspire & Delight: Tips for Dealing With Donor Retention


How much are your donors worth to you? If your nonprofit isn’t prioritizing donor retention, then you might be giving donors the impression they aren’t worth much.

At first glance, donor retention might seem easy. After all, if someone gives to your organization, that means that they know you, they support your cause, and they’re convinced that they can help. You may have successfully marketed yourself to a new donor, but that’s only the beginning of the work.

Statistics bear out that the vast majority of donors only give once. This means many nonprofits are missing a key opportunity to fund-raise more efficiently by cultivating their existing pool of donors. Nurturing previous donors almost always costs less than finding new ones.

Here are some strategies for donor retention that every nonprofit should be practicing:


Keep Engaging With Your Existing Donors

No one wants the kind of friend who only calls when they need something. Don’t be that friend. Get in touch with your donors for a variety of reasons, to keep them updated on your cause, to share content that’s useful or exciting, or just to thank them for their support. Share your nonprofit’s triumphs, so donors know exactly what they’ve contributed to.

Rainforest Rescue excels in this category, tagging their winning campaigns as “achievements,” and sending donors regular messages with success stories. You want your donors to look forward to contact from your organization, so that when you do send a solicitation, they’re eager to open it. Ideally, your donor base will look to your organization as a key resource, and when giving season comes, they’ll remember the wealth of information and content you’ve shared with them.


Don’t Just Ask  For Money

Your donor base holds more than just the funds necessary to keep your organization going. They’re also the key to understanding why your cause resonates with people, how best to reach out, and how your organization should grow in the future. But, as Chuck Longfield of Blackbaud, Inc., points out, “Donors are telling us things, yet we ignore the information.”

Ask your donors plenty of questions besides how much they can give. Ask them how they prefer to be contacted, whether it’s through email, direct mail, or social media. Ask why your mission matters to them, and what they think is the most important step forward. If a previous donor declines to give again, ask why. If he or she is having a lean year, you can offer to keep sending them updates, or suggest they get involved by volunteering, or promoting your cause on social media.

The more you know about a donor, the better you’ll be able to reach out and keep them involved.


Make Your Mission Theirs

I graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Like many private colleges, Smith relies heavily on individual donations from alumnae. So the college adopted a clever strategy for thanking all of those donors. Every year, scores of current Smith students spend a few evenings making phone calls, so that each and every donor receives a personal thank-you call from a “Smithie,” a direct beneficiary of their donation.

Often, the call reminds the donor of the happy years that she spent studying at Smith, and she’ll keep the student on the phone, asking her what she’s majoring in or which campus house she lives in. When it’s time to donate again, the donor might remember this ongoing personal connection with the college and reach deeper.

Your organization should be engaging with donors in a way that strengthens their personal connection to your mission. Some nonprofits, like United Way of the Bay Area, are producing excellent multimedia content to showcase their positive impact. They also connect with donors on the ground, by inviting beneficiaries of their services to speak at events about how United Way has helped them.

Whenever you can, connect your donors to the great ways they are helping your cause. As Joe Gerecht says in this piece on donor retention, “The more your donors see the organization as ‘their non-profit,’ the more they will invest to support your work.”

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Huelo Dunn

Huelo Dunn is an American living in Sofia, after spending two years in Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer. She has several years of experience in blogging, community engagement and small business development. She loves knitting, writing, and Bulgarian hospitality.


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