The average donor retention rate for first-year offline donors is 29%, while for online it’s only 22%.

Those are some pretty shocking numbers. We’ll end up with donor retention rates under 20% if the donor retention stats continue to trend downward. Now, factor in the rising cost of donor acquisition. This makes for a difficult environment for fundraisers and their nonprofits to succeed.

Do we have the power to change this? Yes. And the effects can be exponential. According to Adrian Sargeant, co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, improving your retention by merely 10% will increase your donor database value by more than 200%.

That means there’s no time like the present to improve your donor retention rates.

People ask for donations countless times a year. Some contribute and others don’t. But keeping donors coming back is one of fundraising’s biggest challenges. There are many important questions to ask when planning a fundraiser. One of the most critical for sustainability is, “How do we retain them?” 

The “donor lifecycle” describes the relationship between fundraiser and supporter. It refers to the process of informing donors about your mission. Make the ask, communicate results, express gratitude, and gain a renewed commitment. The goal: retention.

The key is cultivating relationships with those who support your community organization. Your aim is to close the gap between making a donation and the impact that these contributions will make. Remember, successful donor retention strategies:

  1. Are mission-driven.
  2. Communicate impact.
  3. Express gratitude.

Building trust, rapport, and investment with your community will improve your success. This increases the likelihood that people will become champions of your organization. And the ultimate goal, gain support for your fundraising goals year after year. Let’s jump in!

1. Successful donor retention strategies are mission-driven.

Giving money without getting a tangible return is counterintuitive. Some of the most basic principles of economics say otherwise. But if you can relate the donation to the mission, you’ve mastered the art of developing philanthropy. You can achieve this goal by framing your fundraiser with a strong mission.

Consider an example. In the nonprofit world, charity: water is a young organization. Even so, they’ve quickly risen to popularity because of innovative marketing. They have a clear and compelling mission. “Our mission is to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world.” This 10-second summary describes how this global nonprofit puts their fundraising dollars to work.

Local community fundraisers can still have a compelling mission behind them. You may be selling a tangible good to raise money or going for a pure ask. Either way, others can understand your goals by articulating a broader context mission. Mission statements that address “systemic change” are especially powerful by illustrating the real difference their gift or purchase can make.

2. Successful donor retention strategies communicate impact.

Grassroots fundraising may seem too small to warrant this kind of approach. But to the donor, understanding how their money’s spent brings everything full circle.

Nonprofits and community organizations have often mastered “the ask”. But they don’t continue their donor stewardship by sharing their success. The most successful fundraising communications use the art of storytelling. This is how they retain donors by making them a part of that story. 

For example, how many books did you buy and how much money did that save teachers? Think about what lesson plans were created thanks to a donor’s generous gift. These kinds of connections make storytelling a powerful tool to engage donors in your cause. Once they connect with that need, supporters are far more likely to remain supportive.

3. Successful donor retention strategies express gratitude.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a good fundraiser who doesn’t give thanking donors equal weight with asking.

Consultant Janet Hedrick says that fundraisers should thank donors multiple times. Your capacity for continued outreach to donors may be limited by organizational codes. But it never hurts to send an expression of gratitude to their mailbox after the campaign has ended.

When thanking someone who participated in your fundraiser, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Use donor-centric language. Remember that “you messages” communicate gratitude better than “we messages.”
  • Begin and end your oral or written communication with a “thank you.” Be sure to continuously reiterate your gratitude throughout your correspondence.
  • Communicate in a way that is meaningful to your audience. Consider your capabilities for public recognition. And thank major supporters in a more public way.
  • Keep supporters informed about recent developments. A donor who never grows cold never has to be resold!

Map out your donor cultivation strategy, and continue to engage them in your impact. Even when you’re not actively fundraising, you can lead successful campaigns year over year. With some work and perseverance, you’ll ultimately achieve your goal of donor retention. Good luck!


This guest post was contributed by Big Fundraising Ideas.



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