A Nonprofit's Guide: Top Tips for Donor Retention

January 27, 2020
9 minutes

Maintaining a healthy donor retention rate is one of those really important things nonprofits just can't afford to ignore. Getting people to donate once is difficult, but keeping them engaged enough to donate again and again is where things seem to fall to the wayside for nonprofits. The Fundraising Report Card reports that the average donor retention rate for nonprofits is 37%. To bring some clarity to that number, if you brought in 100 donors in 2018, only 37 of them will donate to your organization in 2019. If this were grade school, that would equal a big, fat "F" in nonprofit retention class. A fundraising optimist might try to twist this into an "F" for e(F)fort. Not on our watch.

Your nonprofit needs a plan if it's struggling with retaining donors year-over-year. We've got some strategies and tips to help you go from a grade "F" to at least a "B"!

Be consistent

There's tremendous value in showing up when you say will, time and time again. In fact, consistency is considered one of the most powerful tools of persuasion. That's why staying in front of your donors regularly is one of the best donor retention tactics.

What does consistency look like when it's aligned with the goal of retaining donors? It looks like weekly, monthly, or quarterly newsletters. It looks like annual thank-you events. It looks like scheduled direct mail appeals. It looks like keeping a repository of success stories and outcomes that you share with donors and supporters on a monthly or quarterly basis. Whatever method of engagement you choose, do it consistently so your donors know what to expect.

Bonus stats! According to the 2019 Global NGO Technology Report, even though the average American/Canadian NGO has over 21,000 email subscribers, 18% of US and Canadian NGOs don't send out email newsletters and 34% don't email donors about their fundraising appeals. But with a 2019 study showing that American adults spend up to 5 hours per day in their inboxes and 76% of NGOs touting the effectiveness of email communication, your nonprofit needs to integrate email into your marketing plan.

Take action

Get with your marketing department (or have a nice coffee date with yourself if you are the marketing department). Whip out your annual calendar and identify how many times throughout the year you're sending appeals to your supporters and donors. Then, fill in the gaps throughout the year with marketing activities (newsletters success stories, organizational updates). This will ensure you're maintaining a consistent touchpoint with your donors and they're never surprised when they receive an appeal.

Stay relevant

The effectiveness of your consistent efforts goes out the window if you're not providing information that's relevant to your donor base. When communicating with donors and supporters throughout the year, give them the stuff that you know will delight them.

Take action

The best way to know what engages your donors the most is by looking at your data. If your donor CRM is connected to your email marketing platform, use the data to determine which of your past marketing and fundraising campaigns were the most effective. If you're reviewing your email marketing campaigns, look at things like click-through rate and open rate to determine what the most captivating communications were. If you're looking at your fundraising campaigns, see how much money was raised with each campaign. Identify your most successful campaigns and find a way to replicate them. If your donors were receptive once, they're likely to be engaged again.

Clean up your data

Speaking of data, if you're going to make your donor data work for you, you've got to make sure that it's squeaky clean. NTEN suggests that all nonprofits invest in data stewardship to ensure all your nonprofit communications are reaching their final destinations with all the data points intact. Imagine getting an email saying, "Joan, with your help, we can save the rainforest!", when your name is Danny. That can turn off a donor for good and it could have been prevented with the right processes in place.

Take action

Schedule a regular database audit. We suggest taking a quarterly or annual dive into your data to ensure all information is up-to-date and that it follows the most recent rules and regulations. We know it's tedious work, but it's work that will pay dividends if it's done consistently (and if, like us, your busy brain is soothed by doing data maintenance once in a while, it'll be an infrequent treat.)

A hand-illustrated image of a computer screen and the back of a person's head. The head has long red hair and there's a hand clicking a mouse in the bottom left of the image. Central to the image is the computer screen, which is showing an online monthly donation form. Art by Sophie Cunningham

Make giving easy

If donors have to jump through hoops just to give you money, that experience may prevent them from donating again in the future. You've got to make donating to your nonprofit as easy as possible, like with simple and intuitive donation forms. If you're already using a dynamic donation form, make sure it has a recurring giving option on it. This is one of the best ways to retain donors—automate their giving so they never have to think about it again. Research confirms that retaining existing donors costs an organization significantly less than acquiring new donors. And contrary to popular belief, establishing a recurring giving program takes less effort than you think. It's time to get on board and start getting guaranteed revenue for your nonprofit.

Take action

Start promoting recurring giving in your marketing and fundraising communications. Some donors will be relieved at the idea of giving regularly to an organization they care about. If you're not comfortable making a hard ask to join your recurring giving program, add a line to your email signature, or put a subtle banner at the end of every newsletter. The smallest act can have a huge impact on your donor retention rates.

If you want more valuable insights on recurring giving, check out Funraise's convo with charity: water about their wildly successful program.

Remain transparent

Keeping your donors in the loop about the inner workings of your nonprofit can be a great donor retention tactic. It builds trust with your donors and creates a culture of transparency. Also, people love getting the inside scoop—especially when they've invested in something. Maintaining transparency can include publishing an annual report or having a page on your website about recent happenings and news. it can also include reaching out to donors to let them know about the outcomes that have come from their donation, or even better, lining up some success stories that show the impact of their donation.

Take action

Host a quarterly Twitter or Facebook chat to engage supporters and donors. You can draft a list of questions to ask your followers to get insight on what they want from your nonprofit, as well as encourage your supporters to ask you questions. If you're a nonprofit that deals with controversial issues, consider having your PR or communications person on hand in case any challenging questions arise.

Bonus action! Use the new wave of social fundraising to your benefit as you target transparency: stream your quarterly chat live and ask for donations while you livestream. If you've integrated your social platform with Funraise, you can follow up on donations right from your Funraise account.

Show gratitude

“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls," according to the ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop. While nonprofits are familiar with the fine art of thanking their donors once they've donated, it's important to continue that attitude of gratitude throughout the entire year. Invite donors to a thank-you cocktail hour at your office. Or plan a social media thank-a-thon and shout out all your donors who've helped move you closer to your mission. Whatever you do, make it memorable, and make it more than a form letter that's automatically sent out with each donation.

Take action

You know that marketing and fundraising calendar exercise we suggested earlier? Add some thank you events to the calendar. They don't have to be in-person events, but make it a point to delightfully thank donors throughout the year to show that you care (because you do!).

We understand that retaining donors is a lot easier said than done, but these 6 pillars are tried-and-true ways to help you get closer to closing the gap. You got this, fundraiser. And as always, we're here to help!

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