Some nonprofit staffers and volunteers may feel that now is the time to take a well-deserved break from the frantic pace of year end fundraising. When working with nonprofit clients, I advocate doing the exact opposite. If you want to retain your 2016 donors in 2017, the first few months of the year are the perfect time for nonprofit leaders, staffers, and especially board members to do these 3 things to retain donors:

1. Say THANK YOU in a personalized way as often and as sincerely as you can.  Saying thank you isn’t just the job of the Development Director or Executive Director (if you even have staff). Board members also need to be involved in thanking donors, especially the peers and friends they have solicited. Now is the time to keep saying thank you. Picking up the phone and calling your donors to say a warm and hearty THANK YOU is so seldom done. Calling donors to say thank you can be very powerful since so few other organizations are prioritizing this time-consuming work.  As one data point, my husband and I made gifts of varying sizes to 25 nonprofit organizations in 2016. Some of these organizations included heartfelt, personalized notes on their receipts. These notes were noticed and very much appreciated. I can count on one hand which organizations took the time to do this. One Executive Director even emailed us as soon as our gift was made on Giving Tuesday which happened to be about 9:00 pm. We also received some in person thank yous which we appreciated. These were from organizations where we are very involved as board members or long-time volunteers. The rest of the donations felt more like transactions. When donors feel that no one at the organization noticed their gift, they can assume it doesn’t matter and may stop giving which leads me to points 2 and 3.

2. Communicate the impact of the donor’s gift in “snackable” pieces.  Donors want to know that their gift made a difference, so tell them. Don’t just tell them the impact of their gift when you want to solicit them again. I recommend “snackable” donor impact content that can be delivered in an email or newsletter or in person anecdotally. Testimonials and quotes from the beneficiaries of your nonprofit’s services are powerful. Many donors want to see impact in the form of numbers and percentages, so use infographics to tell your nonprofit’s story too.  And please don’t send a big, long copy-heavy annual report once a year and nothing else. Many donors can only absorb small bits of your content at a time. It’s far better for them to read and potentially remember one great piece of information about how their gift made a difference than for them to hit delete as soon as your email pops into their inbox.

This advice isn’t just nice to do, it’s imperative if your nonprofit wants to retain your past donors and lower your donor acquisition costs.  According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project,

  • The average gift retention rate was 48% in 2015. That is, only 48% of 2014 dollars raised were raised again by participating nonprofits in 2015. The median gift retention rate was 46% in 2015, 2% less from 2014.
  • Over the last 10 years, donor and gift or dollar retention rates have consistently been weak — averaging below 50 percent.


3.  Set a board-driven goal around donor retention. As you can see from my own example and more importantly from these national statistics, donor retention doesn’t happen by chance. Your nonprofit organization will benefit from setting a specific goal around donor retention. What’s even more powerful is when the board is setting this goal and then taking specific steps to achieve that goal. (See steps 1 and 2 above for the first 2 tools that will help you with retention.)  Start with a goal of retaining 60% of your 2016 donors in 2017 and see what you learn about what it really takes to achieve donor retention rates higher than the national average.

Donor retention isn’t rocket science, although there can be a variety of sophisticated tools that can help. At the very least, nonprofits of all sizes can achieve at least incremental gains in donor retention by saying thank you more often, communicating the impact of their donors’ gifts, and setting specific goals around donor retention. If your organization is interested in even more tools to improve donor retention, I’m always available to chat at 734-548-7710 or  Feel free to use one of the sharing buttons below to remind your colleagues how important it is to do these 3 things to retain donors.

Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


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