Guides & Resources

Donor Retention: How to Sustain Relationships Year After Year

Stewardship & Marketing: Donor Relations/Stewardship
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One indicator of nonprofit success is fundraising results—how well you’re pulling in the revenue you need to keep your organization’s work in motion. But focusing too much on the hard numbers can sometimes overshadow the individuals who give generously to your cause. 

The irony of this issue is that when you get caught up in the details of fundraising dollars, the human-to-human connections between you and your donors can erode, leading to less revenue and other forms of support like volunteering.

This is why it’s critical for you to take a strategic approach to donor retention, one that goes beyond tallying up transactions and instead focuses on nurturing genuine human relationships. Let’s explore three tips for sustaining supporter relationships year after year.

The Long View—Why Donor Retention Matters

Before diving into our tips, let’s review the benefits of donor retention. Retaining your donors year over year is essential because: 

  • It’s cost-effective. It’s common knowledge that retaining a donor is much more cost-effective than acquiring a new one. Think of all the time, energy, and resources that go into cultivating a new donor!
  • You’ll have a source of sustainable funding. When your donors feel like you see and value them, they’ll be more inclined to keep giving, whether they feel inspired to enroll in your recurring giving program or contribute multiple major gifts. 
  • Donors tend to give more over time. When a donor spends years or even decades supporting your nonprofit, you have access to a steady source of funding. But you also have plenty of opportunities to invite them to level up their giving or get involved in other ways, such as volunteering.
  • Dedicated donors can become ambassadors and advocates for your work. The longer a donor is connected to your organization, the more invested they’ll be in seeing your nonprofit succeed. This means they can serve as a passionate ambassador or advocate for your work, whether they’re inviting their friends and family to participate in your volunteer program or vouching for your organization during the public phase of a major campaign

In addition, being genuine and caring toward your organization’s donors is simply the right thing to do. No one wants to feel like a walking ATM, especially when they’ve sacrificed in order to give to your mission. By making the effort to build strong relationships and retain your donors, you’re communicating that you care about them as people.  

Tip #1: Report Your Organization’s Impact 

One of the most effective ways to inspire your donors to continue giving to your nonprofit is to demonstrate how you’re using their donations to deliver your mission. Here are a few ideas for reporting on your organization’s impact: 

  • Post regular updates on your organization’s blog. 
  • Include impact stories in your annual report. 
  • Translate your organization’s impact data and metrics into high-quality visuals, like infographics.

When your donors see that their gifts are going toward something meaningful, whether it’s a STEM tutoring program for at-risk youth, high-quality medical care for your shelter animals, or more meals for unhoused individuals in your city, they’ll feel like their contributions matter and continue to give.  

Tip #2: Recognize Your Donors 

Recognition is a key part of any relationship, whether one partner is recognizing the other for doing the dishes or an employer is recognizing an employee for going above and beyond. Recognition instills confidence in the recipient and makes them feel important and special to the person who sees all the good that they’re doing. 

This is why recognizing your donors is an important part of retaining them—when they know that they matter to your organization, they’ll stay involved! Here are a few effective ideas for recognizing your donors:  

  • Write a heartfelt thank-you note. Personalize your thank-you note with your donor’s first name and donation amount, specifying how your organization will use their contribution to make a difference. Then include a real signature from someone at your nonprofit. If you want to save on postage and paper, you can put a modern and sustainable spin on this recognition strategy by sending an eCard instead. 
  • Create a thank-you video. Get your organization’s team together to create a fun, casual, and personalized thank-you video for your donors. Make the video engaging by including upbeat music and sound effects, wearing costumes, and using props.
  • Gift your branded merchandise. Everyone loves to represent organizations that they care about, whether it’s their alma mater or their favorite nonprofit! Send your donors a hat, tote bag, mug, vinyl sticker, or t-shirt featuring your organization’s logo. This recognition strategy has the added benefit of transforming your donors into ambassadors for your nonprofit every time they wear or use the gifted item.

Recognition will only be meaningful if you’re recognizing your donors in a way that resonates with them. To find out how your donors prefer to be thanked for their contributions, ask them! 

You may find, for example, that some donors prefer a public shoutout on social media while others like a more private token of appreciation like a thank-you note. 

Tip #3: Encourage Additional Involvement 

Although you want your donors to continue to give monetary donations, you should also encourage them to diversify their involvement. This will help them see your work from a different perspective and give your organization the chance to interact with donors more often and in a variety of ways. Through these donor touchpoints, you’ll strengthen your relationship with them. 

Invite your donors to deepen their involvement by: 

  • Volunteering. Invite donors to assist in your park cleanups, walk shelter dogs, sort donated clothing, or help you run events. 
  • Doing advocacy work. If part of your organization’s work involves working to influence legislation, your donors could help by spreading awareness about your cause on social media, making phone calls or sending emails to their representatives, leading rallies, or collecting petition signatures. 
  • Attending events. These fun occasions allow your team to interact with donors one-on-one and create memories together. Plus, events present a great opportunity for donors to build connections with each other, creating a network of loyal supporters!
  • Providing their professional skills or expertise. Some donors may be accountants, lawyers, graphic designers, or some other kind of expert. You could ask them to give their advice or donate pro bono services, giving them a unique way to personally contribute to your work. 

Not only do additional involvement opportunities enhance your donors’ experiences with your nonprofit, but they also give donors a way to stay involved no matter what their personal financial situations look like. For example, a church parishioner may not always be in the position to give a donation, but they may be able to volunteer or give an in-kind donation. 


Donor retention is key to long-term nonprofit success, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in other aspects of your operations and neglect the donors who make your work possible. Use these three tips to start improving your approach to sustaining donor relationships today!
 

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