Donor Retention Strategies: 6 Next-Level Practices

1

Donor Retention

Every nonprofit understands that the cost of acquiring new donors is more than the cost of keeping current donors. That’s why donor retention is so important.

Your organization has probably implemented strategies to retain donors1, but there are ways you can improve or add to your existing strategies to improve your donor retention.

Here are six suggestions on how to take your retention strategies to the next level:

  1. Make your donor’s first giving experience a good one.
  2. Encourage donors to speak up.
  3. Create a donor membership program.
  4. Host stewardship events.
  5. Offer volunteer options that target donors’ interests and skills.
  6. Share results with stories of success.

Now let’s get started improving your donor retention!

Donor Retention Strategy #1: Make your donors’ first giving experience a good one.

A confusing or time consuming first giving experience is one reason why donors leave nonprofits2.

What many nonprofits don’t realize is that a donor’s decision to leave a nonprofit can occur as soon as they’ve made that first donation.

The donor’s experience with the donation process can greatly affect whether or not they decide to donate again. If your donation process isn’t an experience donors want to repeat, they’re likely not going to return.

Therefore, take the time to optimize your donation page3, making it easier for donors to give. Here are few ways you can improve your donation forms:

  • Keep donation forms short, and only ask the essentials to shorten the time donors spend making a donation.
  • Offer multiple channels for donating so donors can pick the most convenient option.
  • Don’t require donors to set up an account because it adds one additional step that not all donors want to complete.

By improving your donation process, more donors are likely to complete the process, and those that do will be more inclined to donate again.

The key point is: Donors are looking for a giving process that is simple and easy. Optimize your donation process to make it convenient and uncomplicated for the donor.

Donor Retention Strategy #2: Encourage donors to speak up.

When your nonprofit first started thinking about donor retention, you probably planned multiple ways you would keep in touch with donors, but is there anything in your plan that lets donors talk back?

Give donors a chance to speak so they have an opportunity to voice any concerns, ideas, or suggestions they have about your nonprofit.

Not only will this make donors an integral part of your nonprofit, but you may also find some ideas or suggestions that you want to implement.

When you let donors talk and listen to what they have to say, they will become more invested in your nonprofit because they’re contributing in more ways than just financially.

Here are some ways you can get donors to communicate with you:

  • Surveys
  • Advisory councils
  • Feedback meetings
  • Online discussion via social media

The important thing is to make sure that your engagement isn’t just one sided. For example, if your nonprofit sends out a survey about ways to improve your volunteer program4, don’t end the conversation after you’ve received their comments.

Follow-up after the survey to thank donors for completing it, and then let them know how you plan to use the information you gained.

The key point is: Donors want to be heard, and the more you let them speak, the more invested they’ll become in your nonprofit.

Donor Retention Strategy #3: Create a donor membership program.

If your nonprofit doesn’t already have one, a membership program is a fantastic addition to your donor retention plan5.

A membership program offers incentives or special perks in exchange for donor’s charitable contributions.

Depending on how you structure your membership program, you might require donors to give a certain amount, donate an annual fee, or volunteer a certain amount of hours in order to become members.

Not only can a membership program boost donor giving (especially for those just under the amount to join) but it also creates a group of people who are truly invested in your nonprofit’s mission.

As you create your membership program, your focus should be on building awareness, creating a community based around philanthropy, and fundraising.

Your membership also needs to include incentives to encourage donors to join. What type of incentives you decide to give will all depend on your nonprofit and on your donors. Ask donors to see what they would like to receive as a member.

Some of your membership incentives could include:

  • Updates on your nonprofit before everyone else.
  • Shirts and other items (hats, keychains, and bumper stickers).
  • Free parking or early access to events.

The key point is: A donor membership program is a great way to build a community of like-minded individuals.

Donor Retention Strategy #4: Host donor stewardship events.

Hosting a stewardship event6 is just another way for nonprofits to acknowledge donors for their support. Events are great because they bring your nonprofit’s loyal supporters in one place.

In addition, a stewardship event gives your nonprofit a chance to interact with donors in person. These face-to-face conversations will help you to get to know your donors so that you can develop better, more relevant ways to communicate with them later on.

The kind of event you host will depend on your nonprofit’s resources and the donors you’re trying to reach. Here are some ideas of the types of events you can host:

  • Plan a lunch event for volunteers where you can acknowledge them for their time. An event like this will boost morale and show your appreciation.
  • Host a dinner with progress reports for major donors. Major donors can learn about how well projects are going and where their money is going, so they can feel confident about how their donations are being used.
  • Create events for donors in your membership program. Members will appreciate that you’re hosting an event just for them, and the event is another incentive to encourage other donors to join.

The key point is: Nonprofits should host donor stewardship events because it brings donors together in an environment where you can interact with donors in person.

Donor Retention Strategy #5: Offer volunteer options that target donors’ interests and skills.

Asking donors to volunteer lets them interact with your organization, see your mission in action, and provide support in a different way.

As volunteers work on projects or at fundraising events, they get to work first-hand with staff and other supporters. During the time they spend volunteering, donors will talk and share interests, building relationships that will further connect them to your nonprofit.

If a donor develops a bond, they’re likely to stick to your nonprofit longer because they’ve gained friends and spent time working as a part of your nonprofit.

However, if you’re already encouraging donors to volunteer, what are some other ways you can make the experience more unique?

Go beyond having donors volunteer in traditional roles7, and focus on offering ways donors can contribute using their skills and interests.

For example, if you know a donor who has a passion for photography, suggest to the donor that they should volunteer to take photos at one of your fundraising events so you’ll have images to share on social media as well as in future promotional materials.

As a new volunteer, it’s easy to feel like a fish out of water. If you put donors in volunteering positions where they can use their strengths, both you and the donor will benefit.

The donor will be confident in their work, and you get the support of someone with the skills to complete the role.

Another way you can get creative with volunteer offers is to put donors in roles that require more responsibility or where they’re teaching others.

For example, if you nonprofit helps students prepare for college with free tutoring services, bring in donors who are college students or recent grads for a panel discussion.

They can bring valuable information to the students you serve, and they get to be leaders and mentors which will strengthen their ties to your cause.

The key point is: While volunteering is a great way for donors to further engage with your nonprofit, give them ways to contribute that take their unique experience and talents into account.

Donor Retention Strategy #6: Share results with stories of success.

The final strategy to improve your donor retention is to share results. Donors want to know that their contributions are making a difference, and the only way nonprofits can do that is by sharing results.

Storytelling8 is a great tool to use when giving results because it taps into donors’ emotions, and they get a better sense of the outcome in return.

By just stating facts or statistics, the information can be confusing and doesn’t have as much impact as a true, personal story.

For example, if your nonprofit helps rebuild homes for families in need, you can tell the story of one of the families you helped, as long they give you their permission.

Keep in mind that your stories should focus on the accomplishments that were possible due to your donors’ contributions.

It’s not about complimenting your organization. It’s about sharing impact.

The key point is: Storytelling is a great way to share results with donors because it speaks to their emotions and gives them a concrete idea of how your mission was accomplished.


Getting donors to stay invested in your nonprofit is about engaging them in creative ways. Make your interactions with donors, from the very beginning, ones they will enjoy.

Footnotes:

  1. https://www.qgiv.com/blog/donor-stewardship-cultivation-guide/
  2. https://topnonprofits.com/5-big-reasons-donors-leave-can-fix/
  3. https://www.qgiv.com/blog/donation-pages/
  4. https://topnonprofits.com/8-tools-for-organizing-volunteer-programs/
  5. https://www.neoncrm.com/membership-association-management-guide/
  6. https://www.gailperry.com/gails-guide-brilliant-major-gift-cultivation-events/
  7. https://topnonprofits.com/7-super-steps-to-recruit-volunteers/
  8. https://topnonprofits.com/leverage-power-storytelling-technology-raise-funds/

About author

Amy DeVita

Amy DeVita is managing partner at Top Nonprofits. A publisher, entrepreneur, mother, wife, social media enthusiast and fan and avid supporter of the do-gooders in the nonprofit/ for-impact sector. She has written for Top Nonprofits and Third Sector Today; she has been quoted on pieces about social media and social impact on The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. She was named to the Leading Women Entrepreneurs in NJ Monthly and she is a member of Social Media for Nonprofits' Leadership Council. In her spare time she enjoys kayaking, yoga, hiking, traveling, and playing Scrabble. Amy lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and three dogs. In 1984 she earned the "Most Improved Average" honor on her bowling league.

1 comment

  1. Tim Chaten 18 October, 2017 at 10:35 Reply

    Great tips Amy, especially love the suggestion to pair the donor with an appropriate volunteering outlet. Finding a way for them to engage with your nonprofit’s mission and organization is essential. Something many overlook though is qualification. Making sure you spend your resources retaining the right donors that have capacity to make an impact is often overlooked – https://imarketsmart.com/donor-retention-and-donor-qualification-go-together-like-peas-in-a-pod/

Post a new comment