Do you treat your donors like VIPs or ATMs?

Donors are, indeed, very important people. They are the reason your nonprofit can do its good work.

Sadly, too many nonprofits treat their donors like bank machines. Donations are transactions. Thank you letters look and read more like a receipt than a genuine expression of gratitude.

In a previous post, I shared 3 easy ways to show #donorlove. These are ways to improve your donor communications in general.

Now, I want to focus on the different types of donors you have and how you can connect with them in different ways. And show even more #donorlove.


All donors are not created equal. They are unique and should be treated as such.

And that's where segmentation comes in.

Think about the different "types" of donors you have, based on their giving behavior alone. For instance, you might have

  • First-time donors
  • Donors who give above your average gift amount
  • Donors who give a "major gift"
  • Donors who gave more than their last gift amount
  • Donors who give more than once this year
  • Donors who gave, then stopped (or lapsed), then started giving again
  • Donors who have given for 5- or 10- or more consecutive years

The list isn't all inclusive, but it gives you an idea of how donors can be segmented into groups.

Why should you segment? A couple of reasons.

First, you'll even have more fundraising success when you segment your donors by their past giving history.

For instance, you'd want to use slightly different language when talking to current donor than to someone who's never given before.

Second, you should "segment" your donors when you're thanking them.

Imagine the first-time donor who gets a special thank you and even a small token of thanks in a welcome kit. Or the long-time donor, when you acknowledge that she's given for 5 years in a row. That's the kind of personal thank you that donors want.


There are many ways to thank donors. For instance,

  • Standard thank you letter/receipt
  • Personalized letter (computer printed)
  • Handwritten note
  • Email
  • Text
  • Phone call
  • Welcome kit, for new donors

But your work isn't done after you say thank you.

Fundraising is a cycle: ask, thank, report, repeat.

"Report" is a key step in donor retention. Why?

Penelope Burk's research found that donors want to receive measurable results on their gifts at work before they are asked for more money.

That said, there are many ways to report back to donors. For instance,

  • Donor newsletter
  • E-updates
  • Annual impact report
  • Letter
  • Email
  • Phone call
  • In-person donor visit

Again, the list isn't exhaustive. And you'll see some similarities with the initial "thank you" list.

That's because there's more than one way to thank and report to donors.


Donors want to know the impact of their gifts. So you should report back regularly.

If you're thinking "My donors don't want to hear from me that often," you're wrong. In his book The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications, Jeff Brooks busts what he calls "The myth of too much mail." He says,

"More contact means more revenue. In other words, you're in a lot more danger from sending too little mail than from sending too much. Relevant mail is always welcome."

But he cautions, "The surest way to chase away donors is to make all of your messages about you, not the donor. That's how you slip into irrelevance."

In the book Content Marketing for Nonprofits, Kivi Leroux Miller offers these 6 Rs of keeping your messages relevant.

  1. it's rewarding
  2. it's realistic
  3. it's real time
  4. its responsive
  5. it's revealing
  6. it's refreshing

She acknowledges that it's hard to be all of these things at once. However, if you achieve at least two of these, you increase your odds of being relevant.


Remember that sending a written thank you letter is the first thing you do after receiving a gift - not the only thing.

Start to think about who should be called - and why.

Start to think about who should receive another letter or email - and why.

Start to think about who you should visit in person - and why.

Remember, too, that reporting back to all of your donors is key to donor retention.

So, start to think about what that looks like for your organization. How will you share successes along the way? A donor newsletter? E-news? An annual report?

Above all, remember that your messages to your donors need to be relevant.


Now you have four tips to increase donor retention:

In the next post, you'll learn how to tie it all together and create a successful stewardship plan.

Because when you steward your donors better, you'll keep more of them.

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

Until next time.

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

Photo credit(s): Pixabay

Need help writing better thank you letters? Or donor newsletters? Or creating a donor stewardship plan? 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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