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How to retain donors and upgrade their support: 3 tips

January 27, 2020
This nonprofit professional is engaging with a donor at a fundraising event by greeting the donor and shaking her hand., which will ultimately help retain the donor

On average, nonprofit organizations only retain 45% of donors each year. While your acquisition efforts are important, retention is key to cultivating a dedicated community for your organization. 

When you prioritize engaging and upgrading the donors you already have, you’ll create a strong base of loyal, lasting support for your nonprofit. We’ll break down how to create a donor retention strategy and provide tips for upgrading the donors who already support your nonprofit organization.

Create a plan for how to retain donors

The first step to cultivating stronger support from your existing donors is to create a development plan that maps out all the ways you will inspire donors to sustain and deepen their support of your organization. 

What do you know about your donors, beyond their giving history? Do you understand why they stay and why they leave? Survey your current and lapsed donors once a year to discover what attracts them to your nonprofit, understand how your communications are received, and determine whether there are additional ways donors would like to be involved with your organization. Send a similar survey to lapsed donors to find out why they left (and how you might win them back). 

Tailor the activities in your development plan around the survey results you receive and the following metrics:

  • Total number of donors: You should maintain at least the same number of donors from year to year. If you notice your number of donors decreasing, evaluate your communication strategy. Are you communicating with them in a way that they feel valued?
  • Total number of new donors: How many new donors did you gain this past year? What are some ways you can connect with these first-time donors that will encourage a second gift? How can you introduce your organization to at least as many new donors in the upcoming year?
  • Total number of donors that lapsed: Look at your number of donors from the two fiscal years prior compared to last fiscal year to identify donors who lapsed. What can you do through communications and outreach strategies to try to regain those lapsed donors’ support this year?

Discuss these metrics with your team and come up with strategic solutions for addressing any retention challenges. 

Tips for how to retain and upgrade donors

Fundraising success is about more than just meeting financial goals. It’s about understanding what’s important to donors and building trust. Knowing why your current donors support you is a springboard to finding like-minded donors in your prospecting research.

Alongside your acquisition efforts, grow your donor base by upgrading existing donors. Use these tips to encourage donors to increase their level and frequency of giving. 

1. Set the stage for major gifts.

Major gifts don’t have to be million-dollar contributions to have a significant impact. Every organization can and should be soliciting major gifts, no matter what your threshold is. 

Regardless of the amount, it is worth the time and effort to focus on ways to engage with individual donors who have the ability and willingness to make larger gifts to your organization. You already have access to potential major donors within your existing donor pool, and using your data will help you identify the top 50 to 100 donors who fit these criteria:

  • Donors who have been with you the longest.
  • Donors who have given the most over their lifetime.
  • New donors who have given large first-time gifts.

Then segment these groups for more targeted attention, such as tailored solicitations, 1:1 communications, and unique experiences. Form a dedicated group of staff and volunteers to focus on stewarding these donor relationships.

Your next major gift will likely come from one of these donors who has both the capacity to give and a history of frequent involvement with your organization. Carving out time for more personal interactions with these donors will help you qualify those who can make major gifts down the road.

2. Improve your donor engagement strategy.

It’s easy to believe that just because donors have invested in your purpose, they will unconditionally support you again. However, this isn't always the case. To increase the chance of retaining their support, you need to provide plenty of relevant engagement opportunities.

Good donor engagement involves a regular cadence of touchpoints and communications that highlight success stories, program updates, and campaign results. 

Don’t be afraid to share the challenges you face, as well. Donors are here to help you make a difference. They want to see, feel, and touch the impact of their gifts. Use your email blasts, annual reports, newsletters, webinars, and blog and social media posts to share your work and enhance your donor relationships.

3. Widen your reach through existing donors.

A healthy fundraising plan combines a focus on retaining the donors you already have with cultivating the next pipeline of donors to your organization. Fuse these strategies by letting your existing donors help you discover new prospects.

The best potential new donors are people who are already connected to your nonprofit in some way. Use these tactics to grow your donor base through your current supporters:

  • Test out a peer-to-peer program to connect with your current donors’ wider social networks.
  • Include a sign-up option on your website and at events so potential donors can receive your communications. 
  • Leverage the networks of your board members and volunteer leaders to see where their connections can open doors. 

Adding even 10 new names a month can yield up to 120 new donors annually. Cultivate them with a steady communications and engagement strategy to convert those new donors into lifelong donors.

The bottom line for donor retention

Engaging your existing donors will help you develop lasting relationships, locate new prospects, and increase your overall fundraising revenue. Be mindful that if your funding generally comes from one source more than any other, it’s time to create balance. Discuss the ways you can improve and diversify your retention strategy with your board or development committee. 

Want more planning insight? Download our popular eGuide, Create a Fundraising Plan That Will Propel Your Nonprofit Forward, for a deeper dive on how to start your year with a strong fundraising plan.

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