Retain and Upgrade Your Donors: Top Tips from a Successful Nonprofit

February 7, 2023
10 minutes
“It is infinitely more cost-effective to retain a donor that we already have than go out and find a new one.”

Wise—and true!—words from Henry Decker, Director of Digital Fundraising at the Innocence Project.

If you’re looking for an excellent example of nonprofit growth, Innocence Project is one you should keep on your radar. Over 2021-2022, Innocence Project grew their online revenue by 50% YoY and increased their donor base by 10k unique donors. They also—and this is key to the article you’re reading right now—increased their recurring revenue over 80% during that same period, with the average donation amount per recurring donor going up by 60%.

But don’t take our word for it! Funraise CEO and Co-founder Justin Wheeler recently joined forces with Henry to deliver Innocence Project’s top tips for retaining and upgrading donors to nonprofits in powerful growth mode. Watch the video and read on for a donor deep dive.

Donor retention tips for growth-oriented nonprofits

Pulled directly from the video, complete with timestamps for your convenience: explanations and revelations for more donations.

0:40 On your two main levers for growth: the How and the Why

Justin gets right to the heart of it: How are you making it easy for donors to give? To grow, you need more donors, and an easy way to begin getting those donors is to increase your conversion rate with a first-rate giving experience. If donors can’t find your donation page, can’t get through the donation form, or don’t have a payment method that you accept, growth is out of your grasp.

1:10 On changing to a Contextual Giving mindset

Different content is going to move donors to give. Some are going to be motivated by your nonprofit’s origin story while others will want to hear from those who you’ve helped, and still others will find their Why in the data of your annual report.

Your job as a fundraiser is to break down the barriers to their generosity. And a simple way to do that is to view every single page on your website as a donation page. Every page should offer a method of giving, should have a donation form. And it’s easier than you think; Funraise’s pop up donation forms have proven to be a game-changer for orgs across the nonprofit sector.

2:50 On using your donation form to prioritize recurring giving

How do you get one-time donors to become recurring donors? Well, the first step is making them aware that a recurring donation is an option. And a natural place to make that introduction is on the donation form. They’re already moved to give, they’re in giving mode, and you’re going to make it so easy to become a sustaining supporter that they won’t be able to resist the click. 😉

3:31 On using your existing donor file to grow your nonprofit

In a year like 2023, one of the most cost-effective and labor-saving paths to growth is identifying the expansion opportunities present in your current donor file. You’re gonna need to take that Rubik’s Cube and look at it from every angle to find untapped wealth and growth. (And when you find something that works, let us in on the secret!)

7:48 On the best fundraising strategy, period.

You can’t argue with Henry when he says, “The best fundraising strategy is the one that works.” And for that, you need great reporting structure, great transparency, and a great attribution system. As you’ll see, if you can’t do it over and over again, it’s just revenue rain.

9:36 On the value of attribution in fundraising

“We’re happy to take revenue that falls out of the sky,” said Henry. And yeah, who wouldn’t be?! But as he later noted, if it’s not repeatable, it’s not useful. If a fundraising strategy isn’t sustainable, attributable, and replicable, it’s luck-of-the-draw dollars.

To combat this, your nonprofit takes reporting and analysis seriously, setting up dashboards and adding UTMs to links. Donor management takes on a new life as those reports help you discover and build on the content that drives donations, the methods of communication that supporters prefer, and the type of support various donor segments opt into.

10:07 On the secret to Innocence Project’s 50% growth YoY

It’s all about combining the strong-yet-subtle fundraising presence on Innocence Project’s website with recurring donor upgrades. A large part of that is the giving experience that provides space for donors to be generous more than just once.

10:49 On the cost to retain donors

You got the donor to your page. You convinced them to give. Now, the challenge is to upgrade them to a sustaining member. We can’t emphasize this enough: you cannot under-work this process; it’s not a less-is-more situation.

More segmentation, more experimentation, more personalization, more streamlining of the giving experience are all on the table. What’s not on the table is more asks. It ain’t easy, but when you get it right, you won’t need to pester the donor by overasking.

14:16 On building a peer-to-peer program to strengthen other fundraising efforts

Innocence Project isn’t an expert in peer-to-peer fundraising—yet. And that’s the point: they’re a big, well-known org, they’re growing at an unbelievable rate, and yet… they’re still on the lookout for the next Big Idea. Never give up your creativity and your passion—it’s what your supporters are here for.

10 steps to grow donor retention like Innocence Project

The average donor churn here in the United States is over 50%. Yet, Innocence Project managed 50% growth YoY in 2021-2022. You can, too—we believe in you!

The checklist below is a great place to start; it’s flexible enough to work for most organizations, large or small, and can expand to accept all of your creative donor retention ideas.

  1. Upgrade donors from one-time to recurring, using a one-click donation form enhancement and membership program.
  2. Use automated card updaters and payment expiration notifications to keep recurring donors from churning. The tools are at your fingertips; use them!
  3. Make like Chive Charities (with their 97% donor retention rate!) and thank your donors for their support when they cancel or reduce a recurring subscription.
  4. Turn your website into a high-converting fundraising channel with one-click donation form access on every page of your website.
  5. Utilize abandoned cart tools to bring donors back when doubt has crept in.
  6. Incorporate tracking into every element of your fundraising. Knowing which content, which platform, which season lead to donations—and which aren’t working—is imperative to the sustainability of your strategy.
  7. Never underestimate the range of tactics you can use to upgrade a donor. Getting donors to make the initial gift is already done; make the follow up experience engaging and personalized!
  8. Engage donors at every touchpoint. Use your receipt email to introduce donors to new support opportunities, like peer-to-peer!
  9. Once you’ve got your donor search method down, focus on finding fundraisers. Their value is at least double your donors and definitely greater than gold.
  10. Never stop innovating. If you’ve failed 9 times, you’re 9 steps closer to success. (Easier said than done, we know.)

Most organizations, no matter the size, mission, or path, dream of growth to increase impact. Ultimately, the steps to get there aren’t a mystery and you totally can tap into the tools that growth-oriented nonprofits rely on. Good luck!

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