Donor retention is the key to strong nonprofit fundraising - here's how to improve your retention rate, as well as context and trends over time.
5 Donor Retention Strategies to Try This Year
Donor retention is critical to providing a reliable revenue stream for your nonprofit, so here are five example donor retention strategies to try this year.
The first donation from a new supporter is like the first time you meet a new friend for coffee. Enjoying a latte together doesn’t immediately translate into a lifelong friendship. Friendships take time and care to develop and maintain. Likewise, donor retention occurs when you have strategies in place to cultivate relationships with your supporters.
Donor retention is critical for your nonprofit’s mission. Recurring donations provide a more reliable revenue stream so you can continue to make an impact even when challenges arise that might tighten your budget. Additionally, research has shown that, on average, recurring donors provide larger gifts than one-time donors. One study found that the average annual gift size for one-time donors was $43 compared to $143 for monthly donors.
Below, we’ll help you get started with or refresh your current donor retention strategy with five ideas you can try this year to bolster ongoing donor relationships.
1. Level Up Your Thank-You Letters
After a donor gives for the first time, you want to be quick to thank them. Donor retention is easier when donors feel appreciated for their support.
Seventy-two percent of consumers have reported that they’ll only engage with personalized messages. Avoid having your thank-you letter overlooked because it seems like a generic marketing email. Instead, make it as personal as possible to let the donor know you see them and appreciate their role in your success.
Some ways to add a personal touch to your thank-you notes include:
- Videos: Consider sending a short recording in your thank-you email where a member of your staff personally thanks the donors.
- Handwritten notes: Send a handwritten thank-you card via snail mail for an added layer of thoughtfulness.
- Messages from a beneficiary: Demonstrate the impact of your supporter’s gift by having one of the people who has benefited from your nonprofit’s work say thank you.
- Phone calls: Set aside time to call you donors to personally connect and convey your thanks.
2. Tailor Your Asks to the Individual
You next ask of your donors should also be informed by consumers’ preferences for personalization. Segment your donors into different marketing and communications lists to be able to tailor your content to them.
When creating donor segments, consider their:
- Interests: Did they previously give to a specific campaign? Have they expressed an interest in a particular program you run? Use this information to share the events and fundraising opportunities in which they’re likely to be the most interested.
- Giving Capacity: Is your donor a recent college graduate? Are they the CEO of a major company? Know who you should be asking for a $5 donation versus a $5,000 donation.
- Communication Preferences: Donors want to keep in touch with your nonprofit in different ways. Figure out whether they respond best to email, direct mail, social media, phone calls, or other methods, and prioritize that channel.
In addition to information you can glean from their initial donation and involvement with your nonprofit, you can also ask donors about their preferences through a donor survey. Providing a link to this option with their donation receipt can help set your donor retention plans in the right direction.
3. Offer Diverse Ways to Contribute
Donor retention isn’t just about asking for additional donations. By offering diverse ways for donors to contribute to your work, you invite them to remain engaged with your nonprofit in whatever way is best for them at that time. Each of these contributions is an opportunity for donor stewardship.
In addition to asking for monetary donations, you can ask them to:
- Volunteer with your organization
- Attend an event you’re hosting
- Share your work with their friends and family
- Contribute in-kind donations
- Participate in a peer-to-peer campaign
4. Get Creative With Your Content
The growth of TikTok and Instagram Reels has shown a growing popularity for short, shareable, creative content. In fact, 42% of Gen Z survey respondents reported wanting to see brands produce more “fun” content.
While many nonprofits work within emotionally heavy fields, it’s important to still find ways to surprise and delight your audience. Whenever possible, share some lighthearted content to brighten your donors’ days.
However, even when you’re sharing fun content, aim to still have it demonstrate your impact and cause. For example, if you’re a food bank, you could share a short video demonstrating a recipe community members can make with the ingredients in your food boxes that week. If you’re an animal shelter, you could highlight a staff member or volunteer taking your shelter dogs for a walk.
If donors can emotionally connect to and enjoy your content, they’ll be more likely to return and engage with your more serious asks in the future. Tied to this, it’s important to know which social media channels your donors use the most so you can target your content accordingly.
5. Create a Donor Community and Identity
A key way to increase donor retention is by creating a sense of community and identity for donors who engage with your nonprofit. Rather than being a nonprofit a donor occasionally gives to, you become a cause where they find connection, meaning, and belonging.
There are several ways you can help integrate your work into a donor’s identity. To facilitate this, you can:
- Organize events: Whether in-person or virtual, plan events for supporters to meet each other and form connections with one another. As donors become more connected to each other through your cause, they’re more likely to associate your cause with a sense of belonging and encourage one another to continue to stay involved.
- Provide advocacy opportunities: Create social media toolkits, stock letters to send to representatives, and other advocacy tools that donors can easily use to speak up about your work. As they share their support of your work with their communities, your nonprofit becomes a stronger piece of their personal identity.
- Encourage sharing: Ask donors to list on their LinkedIn page that they volunteer with your organization. Run social media campaigns to motivate them to share their involvement via their accounts. This is a great way for others within a donor’s network to learn about your organization and can also be a conversation starter for your donor.
- Present awards: Recognize your high impact donors and volunteers at an annual awards event. Receiving an award for their involvement can further strengthen their bond with your organization while providing them with something to share with their peers.
As you build your donor’s sense of community and belonging with your organization, you can also track their influence and connections within other communities that may be interested in supporting your work.
Increase Your Donor Retention Rates This Year With Strategies Tailored to the Individual
Donor retention is about building relationships. Relationships take time and care to cultivate. By using these donor retention strategies, you can begin to encourage a one-time donor to become a part of your recurring donor community.
When in doubt, remember to use donor retention strategies that are creative and personalized, and which offer diverse ways to stay involved.