The Secret to Making Donors Love You

donor retention

Do you know how many donors you’re currently losing each year?

Figure that number out and you might just realise how important it is to make your current donors love you.

The truth is that donor retention rates are appalling with an average of 70% of donors giving to a charity once and then never giving again.


That means that non-profits are only keeping an average of 30% of their donors. And that’s an average figure, which means some non-profits are doing far worse.


You might not think that it’s important to retain donors – especially if you’re hitting your fundraising target each year – but, as it costs more to recruit a donor than it does to keep them, you might be spending far more on your fundraising than you need to.

Put simply, donors are difficult and expensive to recruit. It’s much more cost effective to keep a current donor giving to your charity.

And that’s why charities need to balance the recruitment of new donors with keeping current donors happy.

The start of any relationship is usually the good part. It’s only over time when you start to take each other for granted and put in less effort that the cracks begin to show. The same is true of donor relationships.

Help your charity to get ahead of the fundraising game by following these 6 simple lessons.

(These lessons aren’t necessarily secrets, but with 7 donors in every 10 choosing not to renew their gifts, you would think they are).


Talk to Them

As any relationship counsellor worth their salt will tell you, the key to a good relationship is COMMUNICATION. That rule applies just as much to the relationships that you have with your donors as it does to your friends, family and spouse.  From the very start of the relationship with your donor make sure that you communicate with them well – and often. As soon as they’ve made their donation, clearly set out what they’re getting from you in terms of communications that you’ll send them; the type of information they’ll receive – and when; as well as what you will spend their money on.


Put Them First

We all like to feel as though we’re a priority in someone’s life. Make sure that your donors know how important THEY are – not just their money – by responding to their queries timeously.

Have a clear policy of responding to donor enquiries within a certain timeframe – 24 hours ideally, and no more than 48 hours – even if it’s just to say that you will get back to them fully as soon as you’ve found out the information they asked for. Tell them when that will be and get back to them by that date. Don’t leave your donor wondering when they’re going to hear from you after they’ve been in touch. They won’t feel particularly special. Would you?


Go the Extra Mile

Donors are asked to give to lots of different causes all the time. But guess what? They chose yours. The least you can do is make them feel valued by making a real effort in your communications with them.

Be creative. Sending out thank you packs with car stickers and pens are all well and good but they have been done to death. Personally, I’d rather not have more clutter in the house. Instead, you could send out a letter from one of your frontline staff – rather than the CEO or Director of Development. Or, rather than running the usual donor dinner or open day, why not invite them to look behind-the-scenes to make them really feel a part of what you do.

When I worked at a major city museum, one of the most popular events we ever did was a tour of one of the storage facilities where we kept a vast array of artifacts that there wasn’t room for in the museum itself. The tour was carefully planned out with a few expert curators available to talk through key exhibits (I’ve always found that donors would much rather speak to the people doing the work than the fundraising team). The donors loved the tour and we received thank you letters for weeks afterwards.

What can you do to make your donors really feel a part of what you do?


Keep in Touch

Far too many non-profits send out a thank you and then the next a donor hears from them is when their gift is due for renewal. And then the organisation wonders why the donor decided not to give again!

Have at least 3 contact points in between your donor receiving their initial thank you and the anniversary of their gift.

Thank yous should be sent within 48 hours. Updates should go out at least quarterly, and a card at Christmas or New Year can all help to keep donors informed about how their gift is helping and to continue to make them feel that they are making a difference.


Make Them Feel Part of Your Work

Telling donors that they are an important part of your organisation is one thing. Showing them is much more powerful. This could be a ‘brand’ for your regular giving programme that donors can identify themselves with – or a private Facebook group for donors where they can keep up to date with what you are doing.

However, it can also be as simple as the information that you choose to share with donors in your regular communications. Tell them what their money is being spent on. Explain how that’s made a difference. Showcase your future plans and share news stories with them – before anyone else gets to hear.


Ask Their Opinion

Nothing can turn a donor off more than if they think they’re are constantly being asked for money. But ask for their opinion and they start to feel more valued. Put that opinion into action and you’ve strengthened your relationship even more.

Ask donors for their opinion through an annual donor survey where they have the opportunity to tell you what they think of your communications; the work that you’re doing; what you’re spending their money on; how they’d like to be kept in touch with – and so on.

Of course, it won’t be possible to act on everyone’s suggestions, but be sure to send an update to all donors afterwards to tell them what the main feedback that you received was and how you’ll be acting on that over the next 12 months. Even if you don’t act on an individual’s suggestions, if they can see that you are making changes based on what the broader donor group has said, many donors will see this as positive.


Non-profits will always need to recruit new donors – people stop giving for a variety of reasons, not all of them related to dissatisfaction. However, retaining more of your donors each year will help you to achieve a greater return on investment on your fundraising costs. It also means you will have a well-informed group of loyal supporters that you can grow each year. And who doesn’t want that?


I’d love to hear some of your donor retention methods that have worked – so please share them in the comments below. Or ask any questions about keeping your donors happy and giving.


(If you’re not sure how to figure out your donor retention and attrition rates, check out this post on Bloomerang, which explains how to figure it out).


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