Do you know the most important word in fundraising?

If you don't, I'll give you a clue. I've used it three times already.

It's "you" - as in "you," the donor. Your donor is the reason you can do your good work.

Yet many nonprofits fail in giving their donors this kind of credit. They don't show enough #donorlove in their donor communications.

Agents of Good offers 7 principles of #donorlove, and I'll share three of them here.

When you do these things, you'll keep more donors. And when you keep more donors, you'll raise more money.


Remember, the donor is the reason you can do your work. Do you give her credit?

Far too often, nonprofit communications sound like this:

"We did this. We did that. We were amazing. Oh, by the way, thanks."

Tom Ahern calls that the "donor-optional" point of view. You'll see it in annual reports, fundraising appeals, even thank you letters.

In Keep Your Donors, Tom Ahern and Simone Joyaux stress the importance of always having a donor-centered point of view. Specifically, they recommend repeating these two simple messages in your nonprofit communications:

"With your help, all these amazing things happened (or will happen). And without your help, they won't."

Making your donor the hero is so important that Jeff Brooks dedicated an entire chapter to it in his book The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications. Chapter 7 is called Make It All About The Donor.

Brooks shares what fundraising legend Jerry Panas called "the BOY Rule." It stands for Because Of You.

Brooks recommends making it a habit to include this phrase in just about everything you say. For example,

Homeless people all over our city have warm meals and shelter because of you.

There are long stretches of beautiful open beaches and shoreline in our state because of you.

New audience members enjoyed the ballet this year - including hundreds of elementary school kids - because of you.


It's stories, not statistics, that donors want to hear.

Donors don't care about what you do. Those are activities.

Donors don't care about how many people you serve. Those are outputs.

Donors want to understand the impact of your work. Donors want to know who is being helped. They want to know how lives are being changed. And they want to know how their donation to you is making a real difference in the world.

This impact can be measured by your outcomes. Your donors want to hear stories about your successful outcomes. They want to know how their donation had an impact.

So, collect, organize and share amazing and inspiring stories with your donors.

Share these stories in your donor newsletter. In your annual report. In your social media feeds. When you meet with donors. Even in your thank you letters.

SAY THANKS WITH PASSION (and more than once)

You send a prompt and personalized thank you letter to your donors when you receive a gift, right?

You thank your donor warmly and genuinely. You assure her that funds will be used as she intended. You affirm that her donation will make a difference and give concrete examples.

I have one client who updates her thank you letter every month with a new success story. The beginning and end of the letter itself doesn't change. What changes is the middle, after the phrase "Let me tell you about [NAME]..."

And guess what? Her donors actually thank her for sharing these heartwarming stories. Now, that's a great thank you letter!

Best of all, her thank you letter always stays fresh, regardless of when the donor gives.

But she doesn't stop there. It's not "one and done" after you say thank you.

She uses the thank you stories (that she sends to new donors) and uses them to report back to current donors.

She does a great job thanking her donors - and reporting back to them throughout the year. And that pays off handsomely.

Her donors give. They give generously. And they give repeatedly.

In fact, her donor retention rate is over 90%. That's more than double the sector's current donor retention rate.

You can have great donor retention, too. Start by thanking your donors well and reporting back on the difference their gift made.


Tom Ahern gets the credit for this easy way to test whether your communications are about you (your organization) or your donor.

Grab a green and a red pen, then grab your thank you letter, your newsletter, your annual report, whatever you've written.

Use your green pen to circle each time the word "you" appears in your material. Look for it in any form (such as you'd, you'll, your, you're, yours, yourself, you've).

Use your red pen to circle each time the word "we" appears. Look for your organization's name, abbreviated versions of your name, references to your staff or your volunteers, as well as "we" (we'll, we've, we'd) and "our."

If you see far more green circles than red ones, you've passed the "You Test."

And if you're seeing a sea of red, you want to revisit your material and make it more donor-centric.

Remember the lesson - and the language - from the book Keep Your Donors:

"With your help, all these amazing things happened (or will happen). And without your help, they won't."

It's all about the donor.


Now you have three of four tips to increase donor retention:

In the next post, I'll share tips on ways to reach your unique donors.

Because when you do a better job connecting with your donors, you'll keep more of them.

And when you keep more of your donors, you'll raise more money.

Until next time.

This is the fourth post in a series on donor retention. For the previous post, click here.

Photo credit(s): Wikimedia Commons

Need help writing better thank you letters? Or donor-centered newsletters? Or impact reports that show real impact? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

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