You probably know this already, but getting new donors is tough. There is a lot of work involved to teach them about what you do, show your impact in a tangible way, and get them to actually donate. After all of that work, if it all goes well, you have one new donor. Congrats!

The bad news is that donor retention, the average number of donors that give to the same organization multiple years in a row is 46% (in the USA.)

Think about that, if you got 100 new donors last year, an average of 46 would give a second time. That is really low! What is even scarier is that that retention rate drops even more after the second year and you lose about 40% of those donors. That means of the 100 donors you started with, after 2 years, you only have, on average, 28 still giving.

I don’t know about you, but that seems incredibly low, especially considering the amount of time, energy and money into getting these donors in the first place!

Today I am going to teach you something. I am going to give you a crash course on donor retention and a few things you can do to increase the possibility of donors sticking around for longer.

Neat right?


First, a Clarification

I am not suggesting that you stop paying attention to getting new donors or the donors that donate $5 per year. No matter how great your retention strategies are, you WILL lose donors and it won’t always be because you did something wrong. Something may happen at home where they need to save all the money they can. Maybe their investments don’t pan out and they don’t have the extra cash they usually do. Maybe they are interested in a different charitable organization and can only afford to donate to one.

You need to replace the donors that won’t donate this year with new ones, and you need strategies in place to continually replenish that pool. If you want to learn some strategies to build/replenish a donor pool, you can take the 14-day donor list challenge, where I walk you through the steps of defining your target donors, find them and engage them with quality content. The course is free of charge, so take it today!


Donors are friends

Who would you rather give money to: a stranger or a friend? I am willing to bet most people would say friend. Why? Because you know them, you like them, and you want to help your friends!

Who are you more comfortable asking for help from: a stranger or a friend? Again, the friend, because they understand what you are going through, you know them and friends like to help each other.

Now think about this: would you rather give to a nonprofit with which you have a personal connection to or to one that you have no connection with? I am again willing to bet you would say one that you have that connection with, for the same reasons you would be more willing to give to a friend.

This is important to remember. When you are looking for new donors, you are a stranger, so you have to get to know your donor. This takes more time and effort, which is why getting new donors is more expensive!

Instead, focus on the friends you already have and build those friendships. It is the same thing with donors.


So how do you steward donors build a friendship?

If we think about donors as our friends instead of a way to make money, it actually becomes really clear what you should be doing. How do you stay connected with your friends?


1) You tell your donors friends what you are up to

You tell them about what you are doing, what you have been up to recently, and what you will be doing in the future. You tell them about things that you have found interesting and what you are working on. You let them know by posting on social media, sending an email and talking to them on the phone. They are able to give you advice and you can respond to them.


2) You include your donors’ friends in things you are doing

You send them invites to events you are throwing, places you will be, and things you are doing. At those places, they have a chance to talk with you and see the real you.


3) You give your donors’ friends gifts

You send them a handwritten card on their birthday, get them something small and thoughtful, or put together a fun activity to do.


4) You keep in touch with your donors’ friends and meet up with them

When you haven’t heard from them in a while, you reach out to them. You invite them to future things you are doing and maybe invite them to visit you. You also send them personal messages or give them a call, see how they are doing, and maybe get a coffee together.


While it may seem weird to call up one of your donors and ask them to join you for coffee, this is actually a really common thing to do if you work for a nonprofit with a major gifts department. Something as small as a one on one chat over a coffee is enough to turn a $100 donation to a $1,000 donation and more.

I have been a part of meetings where a major gifts officer will buy lunch for a donor, present them with a small gift made by a beneficiary and was then handed a $10,000 check for the nonprofit. On the spot.

How did they get to the point where this was a possibility? They did what we just talked about: they invited them to events, introduced them to the kids the nonprofit helped, and made personal connections with that donor. The $10,000 check was the culmination of 4 years of work on the officers part, but that work was worth it.

You can’t be this personal with every donor, but you can do it with a few. My advice is to identify the donors that have the financial capacity to give AND are very invested in the organization. That way, you can focus more generally on the other donors with automated and personalized email campaigns and social media shout outs so you don’t lose them.


What Now?

Like I said, donor stewardship is hard work. There are entire departments at big nonprofits whose only job is to identify major gift prospects, create personal relationships with them, and then ask for a donation. These nonprofits put dedicated staff on major gifts because they know it pays off. While small nonprofits shouldn’t spend all of their time hunting major gifts, the above tactics are a great step in the right direction.

Build Your Donor List, No Matter Where You Are In The Process

Brandon Reed

Founder at Reed Community Consulting and NPO.lib

Brandon helps people help other people. He has over 10 years experience working with small and medium-sized nonprofits in two countries in many different sectors. He has worked at all levels of organization from entry-level service delivery up to the executive director and board president. This experience affords him insight for whole level management of an organization, which he transfers to his clients. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball and spend time gardening with his wife and dog.

Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!