Sticking With You: The Importance of Donor Retention

on in Fundraising

The cost-per-dollar-raised is highest when recruiting new donors.

You have to find them, help them get to know you, build admiration and trust, and then ask.

To stir, shake, and repeat, it takes a lot less effort.

But to extend this cocktail metaphor a bit more, it doesn’t happen without the right ingredients (recognition, insider access, donor awareness of impact) being added in the right proportions – all year long.

Not just a month before the next ask.


Every organization that raises money should have a donor retention plan.

How are you going to make a donor’s relationship with your group (i.e., the impact they’re making possible) an integral part of their footprint in the world? Something they consider “part of what they do” (as opposed to an optional, what’s-my-decision-this-time action)?

A long-tested principle of fundraising is relevant here: “No one gives more than they receive.” In other words, the more you can figure out what makes a donor tick, and what they’re getting out of their gift, the more you can tailor their experiences to what matters most to them.

Instead of inviting every donor to every event, willy-nilly, you can invite someone to experience the youth math team and leave off the senior chorus rehearsals. A targeted line of attack instead of a “spray and pray” approach to donor communication.

We each get so many easy-to-ignore emails every day. For nonprofits sending almost-daily notices into their donors’ in-boxes, those emails become even easier to glaze over.

Don’t be that nonprofit.

Think, target, personalize.

But how do you know where a donor’s particular interests lie?

It takes listening. Someone in the organization (who that is can, quite frankly, depend on the ultimate potential size of the contribution) has to get to know that donor, listen to what most turns them on.

For example: At large events, assign board members to connect with a donor, exchange business cards and get together for coffee or a drink. Seed gala tables with board and staff to converse with donors. Ask donors what interests them most within a thank you call.

Donor retention: the chance to really matter. Year after year.

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