Donor Retention: How to Inspire Your Donors to Stick Around

This is a guest blog contribution from EveryAction

As a nonprofit professional, you’re probably well aware that acquiring new donors costs more than retaining existing ones. Between research and outreach, donor acquisition requires a huge investment of a nonprofit’s time and money. In fact, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, nonprofits experience as much as $96 of lost revenue from every $100 gained from attrition and donor lapses. 

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t focus on acquiring new donors. Rather, it simply means that your nonprofit should make donor retention one of its key metrics in addition to donor acquisition. A vibrant fundraising program requires you to develop recurring donors and steadily acquire new donors each year.

To help your nonprofit inspire donors to stick around, we will explore four donor retention tips:

  • Show your appreciation quickly and regularly.
  • Segment supporter communications.
  • Host donor-specific events.
  • Create new opportunities to get involved.

Effective donor management relies on a combination of donor retention strategies and the right software to ensure those strategies are effectively leveraged. As you connect with your donors, use your software to take note of key interactions, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a nonprofit technical consultant for assistance if you need additional help. 

Show your appreciation quickly and regularly.

Donors appreciate when their contributions are recognized, and nonprofit professionals have developed a wide range of ways to express their gratitude, from automated emails to permanent donor recognition walls. You can leverage these methods to thank your donors regularly, but also be sure to express your gratitude for donations quickly. 

Immediately after receiving a donation, send your donors a thank you message. You can expand on how you show appreciation later on with cards, phone calls, and other personal outreach, but for your automatic, immediate thank you message, be sure to incorporate the following: 

  • Name, pronouns, and title. Personalize your messages to address each donor by name rather than with a generic “Dear valued supporter” or another similar greeting. Additionally, every message you send donors should refer to them by how they prefer to be addressed. This includes using the correct pronouns and titles. This type of information is easily tracked inside a good nonprofit CRM. 
  • Gift amount. Automatic thank you messages often also serve as a donation confirmation message, and stating exactly how much was donated can be helpful for donors tracking their giving. 
  • The impact the gift will make. Donors want to give to organizations that are making a difference. When thanking donors, discuss the impact their gift will have on your mission to emphasize why it’s so meaningful. Try to use specific examples to help donors visualize their impact. For example, a nonprofit dedicated to providing students with school supplies might share with donors what they were able to buy with their contributions. Even better, show that impact with a relevant picture or video!

Make a note of which donors you’ve thanked, and keep track of subsequent interactions with your donor management software. EveryAction’s guide to nonprofit software recommends finding a system with a variety of robust features, including messaging tools. This will allow you to record your communication with donors, collect and document relevant personal data about them, and determine your next steps for their engagement all with one tool. 

Segment supporter communications.

The more personalized your messages are, the more likely donors will feel valued and engage with your nonprofit. Messages that are relevant to their interests and reference their past participation in your organization’s activities can help you build personal relationships with your donors. Plus, if you send them targeted messages based on interests they’ve shown, you’re more likely to improve both donor retention and engagement rates.

To create these personalized messages, try segmenting your donors. Segmentation involves dividing donors into groups based on shared characteristics and designing message templates for each group. For instance, you might consider segmenting your donors by:

  • Donation history
  • Volunteer status
  • Geographic location
  • Donation amount
  • Event attendance
  • Support of a specific program or service

Your nonprofit’s CRM should help you track each donor’s data, allowing you to create these segments. Ensure that you segment your donors in a way that’s helpful for your retention efforts. For example, a nonprofit that segments donors based on donation history may create a series of welcome messages for new donors and include a thank you for long-term support in their messages to donors who have given for several years. 

It’s common to hear that you should keep in regular touch with your donors, but avoid messaging them just for the sake of sending them a weekly email. These messages should be contextually relevant to something with which they are likely to engage. This might include:

  • Information about a specific program or service
  • An event invitation
  • A volunteer request
  • Additional information about the impact of a prior gift
  • An appeal to become a multiple or recurring donor

Whatever you decide, make sure that each email you send has a singular and specific call to action with which the donor can engage.

Host donor-specific events.

You can increase your donors’ long-term engagement and build face-to-face connections by hosting a variety of events throughout the year. When you gather your donors together, you can converse with them one-on-one and encourage them to socialize with each other, all while participating in a fun activity that drives revenue. 

Host a variety of events, including ones that are focused solely on appreciation and ones with a fundraising aspect. Offering a variety of fundraising events can give your long-term donors new and convenient ways to give. For example, here are a few popular events that each have a different fundraising strategy

  • Auctions. You can give donors something tangible in exchange for their support and create a sense of friendly competition among your donors with an auction. Be sure to offer a variety of items at different price points to give all of your donors something valuable to bid on. 
  • Walk-a-thons. Walk-a-thons are opportunities for donors to get together and enjoy the great outdoors while also getting in a little exercise. Walk-a-thons usually generate revenue in two ways. First, participants collect pledges from their friends and family based on how much they walk at the event. Second, your nonprofit can sell a variety of merchandise at the event to both participants and spectators, including water bottles, t-shirts, hats, and snacks and drinks. Walk-a-thons also make great peer-to-peer fundraising events where your existing donors can actually help introduce your organization to their networks and thereby expand your fundraising base.
  • Annual galas. Your annual gala brings donors together to enjoy an evening of socializing and giving. Keep your donors entertained with catering and live music, while also reminding them to consider making a donation. Some nonprofits will even use a projector to keep guests up to date on how much the gala has raised during the night. 

Additionally, consider offering both in-person and online events. Donors who live far away, are unable to travel, or simply prefer to stay home will appreciate being given a variety of events they can attend as well.  

Create new opportunities to get involved.

While some of your donors may prefer to keep their participation limited to quietly donating, many will be interested in new opportunities to further engage with your nonprofit. Double the Donation’s article on improving the donor journey emphasizes the importance of focusing on each aspect of the donor experience, rather than just the end product of receiving a donation. This approach ensures more donors will stick with your nonprofit long enough to make another donation. 

There are a variety of ways you can engage with your supporters outside of just asking for more donations. These can include events such as the ones listed above, volunteer opportunities, or opportunities to give that don’t require additional spending, such as passive fundraisers and matching gifts. 

Of course, you can learn what kinds of opportunities your donors are the most interested in by simply asking them. Use your CRM and messaging tools to take note of donor preferences and put together a survey asking questions about their experience, such as:

  • Why are they involved in your organization?
  • What types of additional engagement opportunities would they be interested in?
  • How would they like your organization to show appreciation? 

Be sure to vary your survey’s questions with a mix of long and short-form questions. For example, you might include primarily questions that can be answered by choosing an answer from a dropdown menu and only a few questions that require supporters to write out an answer at the end. This will help generate more responses as filling out your survey will be a quick and easy process.

Inspiring donors to continue giving requires building relationships through quick responses, personalized messages, and multiple engagement opportunities. As you improve your donor retention strategy, keep in mind that your CRM is one of your most powerful tools for collecting and leveraging data that can be used to forge stronger relationships with donors. By putting time and research into improving engagement, you’ll ideally see your retention rate start to rise.

About the Author

Craig focuses on digital strategy using email marketing, online advertising campaigns, SMS campaigns, CRM management, reporting/analytics for KPIs, and more. He’s also the founder of Think Big Campaigns, a full-service consulting firm that specializes in political consulting, digital organizing, and issue advocacy.

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