4 Best Practices to Improve Donor Retention

Your donors are the ones who keep your nonprofit’s lights on. While there’s no question your nonprofit should reach out to new donors, make sure not to neglect the supporters you’ve worked so hard to acquire in the past. Retaining donors means that you can encourage regular donations that you can count on to keep fighting for your nonprofit’s mission.  

Once your fundraising efforts attract new donors, the next step is figuring out how to make them stay. Donor retention describes the number of supporters who consistently give to your nonprofit and make up the backbone of sustainable fundraising strategies. You can calculate your nonprofit’s donor retention rate by dividing the number of donors retained this year by the number who gave last year. 

It can be easy to get caught up solely in attracting new donors, so we’ve put together a few strategies to help your nonprofit increase your donor retention rate: 

  1. Understand the importance of donor retention.
  2. Collect and save valuable information about your supporters. 
  3. Personalize outreach for your supporters. 
  4. Show ample appreciation for contributions. 

These practices aim to help you understand who your donors are, why they support you, and how you can let them know how much their support means. Donors aren’t just numbers, and implementing the following strategies will put your nonprofit on the path to forging long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with your supporters on their donor journey. 

1. Understand the importance of donor retention. 

While no nonprofit would turn away a one-time gift, retaining a steady base of donors should be the goal of any growing organization. Donor retention creates more sustainable and predictable fundraising strategies, making budgeting easier and more effective. 

Acquiring new supporters is a time-consuming and expensive venture, but retaining donors is much more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. In fact, some research shows that it costs about ten times more to acquire a new donor than it takes to retain one. 

When a new supporter starts their donor journey, they may have no intention to give more than once. Therefore, it’s your job to convince them to continue engaging with your organization in the future. Your donor management software can help you encourage engagement by enabling you to track your donor’s personal information and involvement with your nonprofit over time. With this information, you can encourage them to take the next right step toward giving again.

As donors give to your nonprofit over time, their value for your organization increases, often resulting in a closer relationship, higher gift amounts, and improved retention rates. Qgiv’s Lifetime Value formula puts this concept into concrete numbers. Multiply lifespan (how long a supporter donates to your nonprofit) by average donation amount (the average donation amount across all supporters) and donation frequency (the total number of donations made in a specific time period divided by the number of supporters who donated during that time). 

This simple math will help give you nonprofit an understanding of how valuable each individual donor can be. 

2. Collect and save valuable information about your supporters. 

The first step your nonprofit should take to bolster your donor retention is to collect, and save in your CRM, valuable information about each of your supporters. In order to retain your donors, you have to know who they are. 

Nonprofits collection information about their supporters to build relationships. These relationships are what keeps supporters coming back again and again to contribute, strengthening their connection with your organization as a whole and with the mission at hand. 

An effective CRM can do wonders for saving vital information about your supporters. Look into different nonprofit CRM options to find one that meets your nonprofit’s needs, but make sure that whatever you choose will be able to store key donor information such as the donor’s name, contact information, preferred communication method, donation history, events attended, demographic information, interests, and other relevant data. 

When you know who your supporters are, you’ll be able to create connections based on the information you’ve collected. Understanding your current supporters will not only improve retention rates, it will also indicate what kinds of people tend to donate to your nonprofit, enabling you to create outreach personas. Along with sending out the right thank you cards, your nonprofit should also put this information to good use for future marketing strategies and outreach efforts. 

3. Personalize outreach for your supporters. 

Even when dealing with thousands of donors, you should speak to each supporter like an individual—because they are. This is where the information you collected in step two comes in. Use your data to build relationships with your supporters. 

While your team may be dedicated, it’s inefficient for nonprofit team members to reach out individually with each and every donor. However, you can still establish a personal connection by using your data to craft messages to supporters. 

You may not know everything about your supporters, but you do have key information stored such as their name, their profession, when they donated, and how much. It may not seem like it, but this is enough to figure out how to talk to your donors and start building an important relationship.

There are two primary strategies your organization can take to craft messages that will resonate with your supporters: 

  1. Personalization refers to the addition of specific details about your supporters when you communicate with them. Your nonprofit can personalize outreach efforts by addressing supporters by name, referencing past gift amounts, and telling them about the positive impacts of their contributions. 
  1. Segmentation is the grouping of supporters within your CRM based on shared characteristics or interests to create more compelling communication strategies for everyone within each group. For example, an animal rescue might store information about whether supporters are dog people or cat people. Then, they can create segments and reach out to each group with relevant adoption days for each type of pet. 

Both personalization and segmentation have the potential to create the most relevant outreach information for each of your supporters so they’ll connect with the message you send. 

Personalization doesn’t mean operating on a small scale. CharityEngine’s guide on multi-channel fundraising offers some great examples of how to speak to supporters across multiple platforms at once without losing that personal touch. Your nonprofit can reach out on social media, email, and even direct mail without ever referring to your supporters with a generic “Dear Donor.”

When you’re ready to start reaching out to your supporters, consider where and how you’re reaching them. Expand your approach and try connecting with your supporters through:

  • Social media. Social media is an impactful tool for engagement, allowing your nonprofit to speak to thousands of potential donors with little monetary investment. However, each platform has its own unwritten rules about how to succeed. Twitter is great for quick news updates, Instagram is for eye-catching images, and Facebook likes long-form content. 
  • Email. Email is the most common outreach tool and for good reason! Your nonprofit should be using email not just for standard donation requests, but also to communicate your nonprofit’s impact through emotional stories and calls to action. Don’t forget to use the data in your CRM to craft personalized emails for your supporters. 
  • Direct mail. Traditional mail gives your nonprofit options. What do you want to physically send your donors to show your appreciation and encourage engagement? In addition to fundraising letters, mail out postcards, calendars, and thank you cards to forge a relationship between your donors and your nonprofit. 

Do some research and figure out where your supporters prefer to read updates and engage with your organization before crafting a communication strategy. Talking to your supporters across different media channels will only be effective if your supporters are actually there. 

4. Show ample appreciation for contributions. 

Supporters donate because they believe in your mission, but they don’t want to think that you only like them for their money. Showing appreciation and saying thank you affirms that their hard-earned funds have been put to good use, and it’s vital to retaining supporters.

Thankfully, the previous tips should already be pointing you in the right direction for showing appreciation. Use a CRM or a nonprofit database to collect your donors’ information and create personalized thank yous. 

Here are a few ways to make sure your thank yous always feel personal:

  • Use donor information to customize thank you messages. Never forget to include your donor’s name, donation amount, and the campaign they contributed to (if applicable). A well-maintained nonprofit database gives you even more options for personalization, such as segmenting your supporters based on where they are in their donor journey. For example, you might decide to create specialized messages for first-time donors to welcome them to your nonprofit. 
  • Send thank yous through multiple communication channels. Setting up an automatic thank you email is a good first step, but further thank you messages such as handwritten letters, shout outs on social media, or personal phone calls will help your donors feel that extra connection to your nonprofit. 
  • Send the right type of thank you letter. A boilerplate thank you message will only get your nonprofit so far. Starting with templates like these can be a good first step, especially if your nonprofit is just starting off. However, you should always be sure to edit the template to make it your own. Thank you letters are a regular part of your nonprofit’s relationship with your supporters, and to ensure that relationship lasts, send the right thank you letters at the right time. 

A good thank you letter will let your supporters know the impact their donations have had on your mission, so be sure to collect stories and statistics you can share with your supporters. Also, don’t wait to say thank you when your supporters donate, especially after their first donation. You should be quick to respond to their contributions and show appreciation right away.


It’s hard to attract donors, so make sure the ones you have stick around for the long-run. No nonprofit is expected to retain all of its supporters, but improving your retention rate will help your nonprofit create sustainable fundraising while building a strong support base. 

Your supporters care about your mission. Show them you care back by creating relationships, saying thanks, and putting their money to good use. 

This guest post was contributed by Philip Schmitz of CharityEngine.

Philip Schmitz is the CEO and founder of cloud-services leader BIS Global, creators of the CharityEngine fundraising & communications technology platform. Founded in 1999, Phil has managed the vision and strategy for BIS’s suite of integrated business applications & hosting tools used by more than 400 businesses & non-profits.

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