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maximize donor retention

The 5 Most Overlooked Ways to Maximize Donor Retention

Nonprofits are experts at recruiting new donors. A lot of time and energy goes into the marketing and cold outreach strategies to spread the word about your amazing mission. However, not as many nonprofits worry about the next steps to take with these new recruits.

The truth is, donor retention is a massively untapped or underutilized resource for most nonprofit organizations.  

Donor retention stems from the effective relationships you can build with your supporters. Think about it: the more they communicate with you and learn about the incredible difference you make in the community, the more they’ll want to be a part of that difference.

Different tools like marketing automation, fundraising channels, and data storage make it easy for organizations like yours to establish effective relationships with your donors. This guide is designed to show you how to use these tools to their fullest potential with effective relationship-building strategies.

When you are designing your donor retention strategy, be sure to remember the following usually overlooked strategies:

    1. Make sure your donor software is up-to-date.
    1. Perfect your acknowledgement of online gifts.
    1. Provide more than one way for supporters to get involved.
    1. Create and reference important metrics in reports.
  1. Stewardship! Stewardship! Stewardship!

Tap into improved donor retention by perfecting your donor relations strategy! Let’s dive in to learn more.

maximize donor retention

1. Make sure your donor software is up-to-date.

This section really has two different purposes. We’ll discuss how your software itself should be up-to-date and an effective solution, considering advancing technology. But we’ll also discuss how you can make sure the information you save in your software solution is correct and comprehensive.

Donor management software is designed to help you keep track of the contact information, historic engagement, and prospect research information for each individual supporter.

When you have access to the most up-to-date software available, you can store more and more information with access to better security. If you are looking to buy donor software, be sure to ask your provider about recent updates to the software. This can give you a better idea about the debugging process and the technical updates for the solution.

Once you have the best solution for your organization, be sure to keep up with the information you store within the database. Streamline this process by choosing a donor database that integrates with your fundraising software. This allows information to flow directly from the online donation pages to your database.

How does this relate back to building relationships and retention? Access to updated information about your donors can empower your organization to:

  • Check historic event attendance. If you see what types of fundraising events your donors have enjoyed in the past, you can plan to make the most popular events occur annually. Plus, if you see that a supporter has attended a special event, you might choose to send them a special invitation to similar activities.
  • Segment donors into groups. When donors are grouped by similar attributes, such as similar demographics, preferred channels of giving, etc., you can better reach out to them with strategies they’re likely to respond to. For instance, you can reach out to those who prefer giving online when you introduce a campaign pushing for online donations.
  • Track relationships of donors. Stay on top of the relationships your donors have with one another or with local businesses by storing this information in your database. These extended relationships can help your organization when it’s time to partner with local businesses for auctions or when you decide to reach out to families for family events.

Tracking the important information in your donor software helps organizations build relationships because you can create personal appeals. These personal appeals are more likely to resonate with your readers and result in recurring donations.

2. Perfect your acknowledgement of online gifts.

If someone gives you a gift in person, your first instinct is to immediately say, “thank you” right? When someone donates to your organization, the same instinct should apply. Acknowledgement of their generosity is key to showing your donors you care.

Overall, nonprofits are doing a great job of expressing their gratitude to their donors. 91% of donors agree that non-governmental organizations say “thank you” frequently enough. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vary your messages of appreciation from time to time.

You may change your appreciation tactics for the different contributions your donors make toward your organization. For example:

    • When people donate using Facebook, you may choose to feature one of these donors on your organization’s page each month to show appreciation and recognition.
    • Use your donor software to set up automatic appreciation emails to trigger after someone completes an online donation.
  • Send handwritten thank-you notes to mid-level and major donors to show personalized appreciation for their contribution.

Don’t forget that these thank-you messages don’t take the place of an official acknowledgement letter to donors. Official acknowledgement messages thank your donors, but also provide them an overview of the information they need for tax purposes.

Formal acknowledgement letters are required by the IRS for gifts exceeding $250 by an individual. Be sure you have an easy way to regulate unofficial thank-you messages in addition to your formal acknowledgement letters.

3. Provide more than one way for supporters to get involved.

While donations are the backbone of your organization and the ultimate goal of your donor retention strategy, giving to your organization is not the only way your supporters can get involved. Plus, asking for donations over and over again can make your supporters feel slightly jaded. Instead, vary the opportunities for involvement through which people can help.

Imagine for a minute that you’re a mid-level donor for a wonderful nonprofit organization. You give generously, and fairly often, but they keep asking and asking for more. Eventually, you may start feeling under-appreciated for the gifts you’ve already given.

However, if you keep these mid-level and other donors engaged using various involvement methods, they will feel more appreciated for the work they do with your organization.

Some of the other ways you can get your supporters involved in your cause include:

  • Volunteering. Ask them to volunteer for your next event. Create a registration form for them to sign up to either volunteer or attend the event through your event management software. You can further encourage them to volunteer by offering a promotional item to volunteers.
  • Signing online petitions. Online petitions are great for engaging your current supporters in a way that’s not asking for money. Plus, when you get more and more attention with your petitions, you’ll have more signups from new supporters, creating a broader audience of donors.
  • Participating in targeted actions. Targeted actions are when you call on your supporters to send targeted messages to government officials, CEOs, and other representatives who can make a difference on behalf of your cause. These can be especially effective if something has happened in the news that you can make meaning from in support of your cause.

When you can vary your asks with donors by asking for both money and for other supporting actions, you can build the relationship by allowing them to feel engaged in multiple ways.

If you’re looking for other methods to engage your mid-level donors, check out this comprehensive guide by Salsa.

4. Create and reference important metrics in reports.

Nonprofit donation reporting is a resource that nonprofits often use to keep their donors updated with the latest numbers of donations and to stay accountable to the restrictions placed on funds. However, reporting is one of those resources that is often not used to its fullest potential by nonprofit organizations.

When you have access to the best metrics and measurements from past campaigns, events, and stewardship opportunities, can show you the aspects of your strategy that could be strengthened for better donor retention.

Most nonprofits have access to these types of metrics, but don’t know what to look for. According to Re:charity’s fundraising metrics article, nonprofits should be analyzing:

  • Lifetime value. Lifetime value is the total contribution that an individual donor gives to your organization during their lifetime. This differs from donor retention because donor retention is an overall measure of how many of your donors continue to donate to your nonprofit.
  • Number of donors. This does not refer to the total dollar amounts, but rather the straight number of people who have given to one of your campaigns. The theory is that when this number is higher, the more donors you will be able to retain.
  • % of donors who don’t mind contributing to operational costs. More and more people worry about making sure their donation goes directly to your mission. That’s great, but sometimes making an impact takes investments for your own organization. So measure the number of donors who don’t restrict their gifts.

Accurately and effectively customizing reports by including these metrics, along with others, can show you how your organization is doing with your fundraising efforts. Plus, you can find direct statistics like your retention rate. All of these metrics play off of one another. For instance, a high lifetime value for a donor makes them that much more important to retain in the future.

5. Stewardship! Stewardship! Stewardship!

Asking for donations and giving nothing in return is a recipe for disaster for any nonprofit organization. This doesn’t mean you should be providing prizes for every donation that’s given to your organization; instead, it emphasizes the importance of stewardship for donor retention.

Stewardship has been around as long as fundraising has. It’s important to steward your donors to keep energy high for your cause.

Be sure to include the following items in your stewardship plan:

  • Plan effective stewardship events. Stewardship events are used to get your donors excited about your cause. Mingle with your donors at these events so that you are able to see the face associated with the donation and they can get to know the face of the organization (you!).
  • Send surveys. If there is information you want to know about the way your organization is perceived, simply ask your donors! This information will help you to adjust your organization for the better, but it will also make your donors feel appreciated because you care about their opinions.

Make sure your communication plan is effective too. When you are giving updates about your organization, appeal to your donors using storytelling techniques and personal stories. Even without direct feedback or face-to-face interactions, simply making your donors feel more connected through your communication networks is a great stewardship technique.

With these 5 tips and tricks, you’re well on your way to an incredibly effective donor retention strategy. Now go out and start building!


Gerard Tonti is the Senior Creative Developer at Salsa Labs, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. Gerard‘s marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.


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