When you keep more donors, you'll raise more money.

It's really as simple as that.

Yet too many nonprofits focus on "donor acquisition" - or getting new donors.

Smart fundraisers know that the real money lies in "donor retention" - or keeping the donors you already have.

You want your donors to keep giving and, ultimately, give more.

Clearly, keeping all of your donors, year over year, would be great. But 100% donor retention isn't realistic.

Some donors will move away. Others will pass away. But most donors just go away - because nonprofits aren't giving them what they really, really want.

The fact is you won't be able to keep all of your donors. But you can keep more of them.

(Really! You can! You can read some of my donor retention tips and tactics here.)


All donors are important.

However, there are two groups that top the list when it comes to retention efforts.

The #1 group of donors you want to keep?

Your major donors. You have them, even if you don't realize it.

If you're not sure who your major donors are, take time now to identify YOUR major donors.

The second group of donors you want to keep?

Your first-time donors. You definitely have those. In fact, you probably have a LOT of them.

Unfortunately, many of your first-time donors will also be one-time-only donors. That is, if you don't take active steps to get them to give again.

It's true. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, first-time donor retention continues to hover around 20%.

That means 8 out of 10 first-time donors don't give again to the same nonprofit.

In the book Retention Fundraising, Roger Craver compares this phenomenon to a leaky bucket. He observes that "Most groups concentrate far more on pouring new donors into the bucket than plugging the holes."

Let's plug some holes, shall we?


You need to make donor retention a priority.

And great way to drive retention results is create, then follow, a stewardship plan.

Your stewardship plan will help you say thank you and how you report back to donors.

Think of it as your step-by-step guide to showing #donorlove all year long.

One of the steps in creating a stewardship plan is to decide how to segment your donors.

There are lots of ways to segment your donors. And there are lots of ways to communicate with them.

If you're just getting started, I recommend you start with 3 groups of donors: "all donors," your "first-time donors," and your "major donors."

Then you need to decide how you'll recognize each group of donors.

For instance, "all donors" might get...

  • a prompt, personalized thank you letter
  • a monthly email, sharing a success story
  • a quarterly newsletter, sharing more success stories
  • an annual impact report, sharing even more success stories

"First-time donors" might also get...

  • a welcome kit that includes your last newsletter and a survey about their communication preferences (e.g. how many times a year would you like to hear from us?)
  • a thank you call from a board member (This is just one of many easy ways for your board members to help with fundraising. It doesn't really matter whether you talk to the donor or leave a message. Both will increase donor retention significantly!)

"Your major donors" might also get...

  • a handwritten note from the Executive Director
  • a phone call or in-person visit, to share how their money is being used
  • an invitation for a 'behind the scenes' tour to see their money at work


Here's the key to donor retention: think beyond the thank you.

And remember this: your 'thank you' letter doesn't mark the end of the giving cycle. It's really the first step towards getting your next gift from that donor.

It's up to you to decide which group(s) of donors you want to recognize and how to you want to do it.

And, of course, you need to actually do it. A plan only works when you take action and follow through.

The bottom line? If you want to keep more of your donors, you need to do more for your donors. Make it a priority to show your donors more #donorlove.

Photo credit(s): Unsplash

Need help creating a stewardship plan? Or writing better thank you letters, donor newsletters, or impact reports? Laura Rhodes can help.

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

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.