Donor Retention: Love the One You’re With

Donor Acquisition & Retention are two dances any successful nonprofit is proficient with.  The purpose of this article is to highlight the benefit of shifting some of the energy spent on acquisition and moving it intentionally to focus on retention.  The time you spend investing in Donor Retention will produce a greater return on your investment which translates to greater stewardship.  It just make sense.


You Just Get Me

Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research and author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, states, “new donors are expensive to get and rarely give much the first time.”  She goes on to stress, “acquisition is more expensive than retention and often runs at a loss.”  Wow!  Makes sense.

Think of this in terms of your most basic relationships in life: When you meet up to connect with your spouse or close friend and catch up on life, the benefit that close relationships provides is the ability to jump right to the heart of what you need to talk about.  They know your story and how you are wired, the shared history you have makes this possible.  Connecting with someone new or unknown requires extra effort: context is required, trust needs to be established, then there is the need to check for understanding to ensure you are both on the same page…  It’s a lot of work to start new.


3 Things to Motivate Donor Retention & Increase Giving

Burk’s national research study on key motivators of donor loyalty shows that 93% of those surveyed said there were three things that would motivate them to remain a committed donor and give increasingly generous gifts over time:

  1. Prompt and personalized gift acknowledgement
  2. Confirmation that funds will be used as they indicated with their gift
  3. Be shown the results of their last gift before you ask for another one

Burk points out that these three points are all related to your donor communication and therefore are fully within your grasp.  To put these three points in a relational context you could choose to think of them in terms of:

  1. Thank You
  2. I Hear You
  3. You Matter – Here’s Why…


“I Used Targeted Communications To Increase Your Retention and Lifetime Value”

I’ve intentionally used a lot of “relational language” in this article; I believe it helps make the necessary emotional connection required to communicate value and worth to your donors.  I could have used industry language like, “By using targeted personalized communication with your current donorbase, you can increase retention by x% and increase the lifetime value of a donor by up to XXX%.”  When it comes to connecting with your donors using commodified language such as this will do you no favors.  I realize no successful nonprofit would ever use language that arduous, but I use it to make the point that when your heart is not engaged it’s easy to craft something on autopilot which reads as rote and insincere.

Retain your current donors with your sincere gratitude and acknowledgement of who they are what they have done for you and those you serve.  Get out there and further capture their hearts by pursuing deeper connection through sincerity and acknowledgement of what they mean to you.  Be bold.  You’ve got this.