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Jastine Lumbres
by Jastine Lumbres

How To Retain Donors

Donor retention is defined by Nonprofit Easy in “The Ultimate Guide to Donor Retention” as “a fundraising method that seeks gifts from existing donors. Regular, monthly, and annual donors are all forms of retained donors, as they give multiple gifts to nonprofits over long periods of time.” Simply put, donor retention means finding ways to keep your donors from disappearing after their first donation. And while common sense would lead us to believe that donors would stick around after giving some of their money to an organization that is helping the world, we know that that is not always the case. In this article, we want to assist your nonprofit in figuring out donor retention, even offering our own recommendations on how to boost it.

The stats.

Before we get into anything else, let’s take a look at a few useful stats on donor retention to give us an idea of how it has been operating in the nonprofit world: 

a) From npEngage: 3 out 4 donors leave and don’t come back with an average retention rate of new donors ten years ago at 33%, and 27% recently 

b) Nonprofit Hub: your nonprofit should expect to lose over 60% of donors after their first donation; retaining 10% more of your first-time donors can net a 200% lifetime return

c) Network for Good: recurring donors give 42% more over the course of one year than a one-time donor does

d) Nonprofit Easy:

  • costs about five times more to acquire one new donor than it does to retain one donor; nonprofits tend to spend two to three times more recruiting donors than those donors will give through their first donation
  • the majority of planned gifts come from donors who give to a nonprofit 15 or more times during their lifetime
  • you have 90 days after the initial donation is made to form a relationship with a donor

The numbers don’t look too promising, but turning those numbers into more positive stats for your nonprofit is what this article is about. So why do the numbers seem so bleak? It’s because retaining donors can be a stressful and overwhelming task for nonprofits, especially when pitted against the following reasons why donors end up leaving and not coming back.

Why do donors stop giving?

There are many reasons that influence why donors decide to stop contributing to your nonprofit, as outlined in “How to Get First Time Donors to Give Again” by Joanne Fritz for About Money and “Good Stewardship is Key for Improving Donor Retention” by Sally Boucher for Wealth Engine. Taking their articles together, we came up with a pretty extensive list, along with a few percentages of donors who stop giving for that specific reason. 

  • can no longer afford to donate - 54%
  • did not remember donating - 9%
  • donor believes the mission no longer needs their donation - 5%
  • nonprofit does not show where donations go - 8%
  • nonprofit does not communicate well after fonation - 18%
  • donor felt that other causes needed their donation more - 36%
  • nonprofit did not say Thank You - 13%
  • donor dies - 16%
  • supporting the cause, but in some other way like volunteering 
  • was not given a reminder to give again
  • nonprofit asked for too much money
  • donor moved away

Get to it!

Start by figuring out your nonprofit’s donor retention rate. Has it improved or has it gone down in the past year? Or did it just stay the same? Look back on your records over past months and years to see your donor retention. Seeing your progress in the past will help your nonprofit pinpoint some of the patterns and variables that might have been effecting your donor retention.

Use donor management software to monitor your donor retention rate and to look into what motivates your donors to give so that you can find ways to encourage them to give again. After determining all of these factors, read below for some of our suggestions to improve your donor retention rate.

Hone your messaging strategy.

Odds are the reason you created your nonprofit organization is because you either heard a story or have your own experience with a social issue that needed some help. Mobilize your donors and keep them around through messaging that tells a story. Your story must be detailed and really targeted toward your donor base so as to draw out their emotions. Choosing to donate is a very personal decision, forging a connection with them through your storytelling will help donors come back.

Joanne Fritz supplements this strategy in “5 Ways to Recruit and Keep Monthly Donors” by suggesting that you make each monthly donation about an explicit subject or program such as a specific child in need of clean water, animal in need of rescue, or an educational program for gang-affiliated youth.

Your messaging strategy should also be tailored towards your audience, information about which you should already have at your disposal, thanks to your donor management software. For example, in “6 Things You Must Do to Acquire and Retain Younger Donors” by Andrew Desmond, millennials (who are considered within the age range of 18-30 years old) are more drawn to messaging through social media and video. Millennials are one of the largest groups that nonprofits have been targeting in recent years, mainly because they did not take the kind of economic hit their parents took during the recession. Because of their age range they still have decades to build up their wealth, so investing in them and maintaining relationships with them would be a smart move for your nonprofit, as it will pay off in the long run when they get older and are able to donate larger amounts. Nonprofits have been tooting the horn about how much social media has helped in exposure, but with video your nonprofit can add that extra dash of personality do your donation page or website by showing behind the scenes footage of events and fundraisers or by storytelling.

Foster trust.   

Donors, like in any relationship, want to feel that they can trust your nonprofit. Nurture that trust by being transparent in your nonprofit. This means being up front about what your nonprofit does and the role donations play in your mission. Take it a step further by making sure that your donation pages are branded with your nonprofit color scheme and logo prominently displayed so that your donors know that they were taken to a page that your nonprofit deems trustworthy with their money and credit card information. Building this trust means that donors will feel secure. That feeling of security will play a big part in helping them give again.

SImplify the donation process.

Make the donating an easy operation. Hold your donor’s hand and lead them through the process. Test out the donation page from beginning, starting with the donor clicking the call to action button, moving through the dollar tier options given, to putting in their credit card information, ending with the acknowledgement page confirming their donation and thanking them for their contribution. Make things more accessible through responsive web design and making everything mobile-friendly across all devices.

These things are very important steps to take, as mobile devices made up 30% of all web traffic worldwide. Going back to American Millennials, 70% of them have smartphones. If your nonprofit is not adjusting its online presence according to those kinds of numbers you could potentially be missing out on more donor opportunities.

Communicate! Follow up.

Don’t forget to say Thank You! After the donation is processed you nonprofit is pretty much on the clock:  you have between two to three days to reach out to your donor. Make sure you have all of your Thank You templates in place for both email and direct mail. Personalize follow-up messages by organizing your donor base into groups based on their giving behaviors, personalities, and the kinds of the campaigns they have expressed interest in and ask your donors how they would prefer to continue communicating with your nonprofit. Adopt consistency in your communications after the donation: if a donor decides to donate online, make sure that additional materials, such as newsletters and updates, are sent to them via email. The same goes for those who choose to donate through direct mail; send physical copies of newsletters, cards, or letters.

Keep your donor base informed. Show them where their donations have gone, let them know how they can give more (through monthly donations), and how they can contribute elsewhere to your nonprofit (through participation in fundraisers and events or as volunteers). Keep the relationship going by encouraging some face time with your donors. Get donors to come and check out your nonprofit in person and host events to bring people together.

As always, get feedback! Your donors want to feel like they are a part of something special, so invest in them and they will return your goodwill. Remember that today’s donor base donates to causes, not organizations. If your nonprofit would like to learn more and to get some tips on how to increase the volume of your donations, we suggest checking out our article here.

Side note: Ever heard of Google's nonprofit program?

Did you know Google provides nonprofits with $10,000 per month in free advertising credit? This program is known as Google Grants and it's available to almost every 501c3 nonprofit organization. Learn how we can help you get the most out of the Google Grant program. Click below to get started!
There's a smarter way to do Google Grants.

Jastine Lumbres

Jastine Lumbres
Jastine is Elevate Click's first content writer. She received her BA in English from UC Riverside and Master's in English degree from Claremont Graduate University. She currently lives in Rosemead, CA with her family.

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