5 Donor Retention Strategies to Supercharge Your Fundraising

Share This Article

0 0 0 0

My roommate is a development associate for a D.C. nonprofit, and he has no fear.

Asking for money in return for an immaterial promise of possible political progress is not a very easy sale to make. His job is one I could never do, yet he does it day-in and day-out, asking donors for money and selling them the future they desire.


Part of his job is building  lists of new donors for the nonprofit, while the other (more important) part is fighting the attrition of current donors. He explained the donor cycle as:

Identification -> Cultivation -> Solicitation -> Stewardship

According to him, it’s more important and less expensive to retain donors than to spend all the time and effort time it takes to court new donors. Therefore there is a premium placed on donor stewardship and donation management.

In order to prevent your donor lists from shrinking, you need to make your donors feel like their donations are worth every penny.

Here are five rocking donor retention strategies to keep donors happy and giving for years to come.

1. Thank you letters

When I was a child, my mother would make my siblings and I send out “thank you” letters to anyone who sent us gifts on Christmas and on our birthdays. She told us these letters would not only show our gratitude but also show we cared about the gifts given to us.

The same principle applies to thanking donors for sending their generous gifts to your nonprofit. Thanking your donors promptly shows them you care about their support and gives you the opportunity to reassure them their money will be put to good use.

Many nonprofits have specific monetary thresholds for sending thank you notes and letters to their donors, only doing it for their biggest gifts. However this is not regarded as a sound practice for donor retention. According to Nonprofit Marketing Guide, you should be sending thank you letters to all donors, no matter how much they donate.

“. . .most donors (numbers show as high as 75%) are not giving you as much as they could the first time around. They want to see how you treat them and what you do with their money before committing to a bigger number. A first-time gift of any amount is the beginning of a relationship. Acknowledge that relationship and nurture it.”

Have all your letters signed in ink, use real names, and word the letters as if you were writing them to a good friend. Just remember, even if you have to put a lot of time and effort into them, that thank you letters are the “springboard” to donor retention.

2. Get interactive with your donors

What better way to show your donors their money is being put to good use than to invite them to events or tours of your organization to showcase your efforts and successes? The opportunity for donors to witness your operation firsthand inspires confidence and can lead to larger future donations.

Having been given the opportunity help my roommate with such events, I have witnessed the VIP treatment given to these donors as a way to show gratitude to those who fund his organization’s efforts and instill confidence in their funding efforts.

In addition to giving money, you should also see if your current donors want to actually participate in your efforts. You should be offering volunteering opportunities for your donors as well as asking for feedback on future events. Providing them a personal stake in the matter by soliciting their opinions and involvement will make your donors more likely to continue giving money to your organization.

Involvement Ideas Include:

– Take them along to participate on a building project

– Take them to witness areas affected by disaster that you plan to help

– Invite them to speak at a future event

– Take them to a rally to support your political activism

There’s nothing quite like being able to roll up your sleeves and work personally on the same issue you help fund.

3. Create a VIP, tiered system with benefits for different donation levels

I like to be involved in many different causes. It makes me feel good to know that my money is going to causes I believe in, but I also don’t turn down the more tangible benefits I receive for doing so. One organization that I donate to regularly offers separate tiers of benefits for specific donation levels, such as free admission to their conferences, or VIP treatment at such events.

This kind of tiered system incentivizes me to give above the minimum amount to this organization in return for special treatment as a donor.

Some great tier incentives include:

– Reduced or free admission to organization events/conferences

– Free drink or food vouchers at your events

– T-Shirts or other branded swag

– Name recognition in a newsletter or annual report

– Entry into a monthly drawing for a prize

4. Offer to name projects after donors

One of my favorite shows currently is House of Cards. The main character of the show, power-hungry Frank Underwood, may not be a shining beacon of philanthropy and kind-heartedness, but there is one episode that illustrates a great donor retention strategy. In the episode, Frank is honored by his name being etched into a new library building on the campus of the college he graduated from. For him, this event is important to his legacy and makes sure his name lasts throughout the ages.

Some donors are concerned with the mark they will leave behind. For these donors, offering opportunities to leave their name on a project can lead to more loyalty and consistent contributions.If the project isn’t something physical that you can leave their name on, naming the project, fund, or annual drive after a large donor is a way to give donors their legacy that they crave.

You can name anything, from rooms in your office, to sections of your website after donors, which gives them the recognition they want.

5. Offer annual awards and recognition to donors at your events

Who doesn’t like to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions? After all, without all of your generous donors would any of your organization’s accomplishments be possible?

Offering awards and recognition are the perfect way to incentivize donations and healthy competition between your donors.

Of course, not everyone is a lucrative millionaire or billionaire, so creating tiers for these awards is important as well. People in different income brackets all still appreciate recognition. Whether in donation amount, or more small donation-friendly criteria like donation frequency, it is great to recognize those who place highest on your donor lists.

Giving recognition will incentivize your donors to give as much or as often as they can so they can leave a lasting impression on the cause they support.


Do you agree with our list? Do you feel like there are any other tips that should’ve made our list? Let us know in the comments below!

Looking for Nonprofit software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Nonprofit software solutions.

Share This Article

About the Author


Nick Morpus

Follow on

Nick Morpus is a former Capterra analyst.



Good points, thank you.
Another simple and inexpensive idea, which likewise engages the Board, is to ask each Board member to simply telephone a short list of donors and thank them for their support. No ask, just appreciation. Takes a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon and most calls will probably be messages anyway. It works!
Maureen Snook


Of all the donor retention policies, the most significant is establishing relationships with your donors. Donors are motivated because they believe in the mission of the nonprofit to a degree. Management must engage and communicate regularly and with significant information regarding how their contribution has specifically impacted the organization. Larger donors must be included in special social functions and most especially by the Director or CEO. Thank you notes are the mandatory, however the absolute minimum of what is required. Acknowledgement dinners, especial events invitations, special consideration of donor interests goes a long way to make your donors feel fully appreciated and engaged in the organization. Communicating updates on your headway and information about new and exciting progress on future development are also significantly important. It takes a unique character to pull all this off effectively. Be careful in choosing your Executive Director/CEO and be sure they have this critical skill set. Managing a bureaucracy of an organization is only one small aspect of their responsibility. They must have a proven track record and history of donor management skills.

Comment on this article:

Comment Guidelines:
All comments are moderated before publication and must meet our guidelines. Comments must be substantive, professional, and avoid self promotion. Moderators use discretion when approving comments.

For example, comments may not:
• Contain personal information like phone numbers or email addresses
• Be self-promotional or link to other websites
• Contain hateful or disparaging language
• Use fake names or spam content

Your privacy is important to us. Check out our Privacy Policy.