It’s cheaper to retain a donor than acquire a new one.

This simple truth applies to nonprofits and businesses (with customers) alike. Why is this? Here are some facts to highlight the importance of donor retention:

  • Your nonprofit has a 60 to 70 percent chance of obtaining additional gifts from an existing donor; AND
  • Your nonprofit has a 20 to 40 percent chance of getting another gift from a recently lapsed donor; BUT
  • You have less that a 2 percent chance of obtaining a gift from a prospective donor.

Clearly, you want to hold onto and build deeper relationships with your existing donors. However, this is a major challenge for most nonprofit organizations. According to the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project Survey Report, the median donor retention rate is holding steady at 43 percent. And if you look closer at retention of first-time donors versus repeat donors, it paints a clearer picture — first-time donor retention is just 19 percent versus 63 percent for repeat donors. Not only will you not get as high a return rate on donor acquisition, but you’ll also have a more difficult time keeping them.

Here are five ways enhance donor loyalty and keep donors giving for a lifetime.

Craft a Compelling and Consistent Message

One of the most important factors in getting new donors and cultivating donor loyalty is your organization’s message. Loyal donors are compelled by specificity. Why do you need donors’ help? How does their donation make a difference? Place the focus of your message on the donor, rather than your organization. Make your messages consistent as well, as this is a critical factor in building trust.

What message is your nonprofit communicating?

Be Authentic and Transparent

Speaking of trust, it’s the foundation of the best donor relationships. For donors to trust your organization, they must believe in the organization and know how their money is being put to work. Be transparent about your nonprofit’s operations.

Strong donor relationships also rely on authenticity. Exemplify your nonprofit’s mission and values in all of your donor communications. Make your language accessible — no donors, not even your long-term ones, understand your organization’s jargon like you do.

Allow your communications to be emotional. Donors base giving decisions on their hearts, not their heads. And from that thought, try to understand the perspective of your typical donor. Seeing your mission through donors’ eyes and donors’ values can do wonders for enhancing donor relationships.

Make Loyalty Easy

Inconvenience is one of the biggest obstacles in the donation process. Through your messaging, tell donors exactly what to do. Then, make it easy for them to do what you want them to do — give!

Make payment options clear and accessible on your direct mail reply devices. If online giving is an option, make it easy for donors to find your online giving page, whether it’s a highly-visible “DONATE” button on your homepage or a campaign-specific landing page. And make sure your online giving page is mobile-friendly, too.

Create Multi-Channel Relationships

There are many spaces where donors can interact with your organization — direct mail, your website, in-person events, email, social media (which includes myriad more platforms to connect!). When you have multiple ways to interact with donors, you create multiple ways for your donor relationships to grow deeper.

Nonprofits that have successfully integrated their offline and online communications are more likely to achieve their fundraising goals. “Successful” integration means that every interaction a donor has with your organization appears seamless with consistent messaging and branding.

Read “What Do Integrated Nonprofit Communications Really Look Like?”


Systematize Donor Loyalty With Sustained Giving

Want to talk about making it easy to give? Sustainer programs are one of the most valuable tools in your fundraising strategy. Whether a monthly or annual giving program, sustainer programs allow your donors to donate automatically on a recurring basis.

Developing and managing a sustainer program requires a commitment on the part of your development team. It takes time to acquire sustaining givers. You must be prepared to change donors’ behavior and build a case as to why automatic gifts make sense for them and your cause. And once your program is up and running, someone on your team must be responsible for it. Managing the program includes developing a communication plan just for your sustainers, a strategy for upgrading, and a system for handling expired credit cards. However, the loyalty benefits can’t be overstated.


Cultivating a loyal donor base is well worth the effort and benefits to your nonprofit’s bottom line. Not only does it boost the lifetime value of your existing donors, but it also mitigates the issues of the “leaky bucket” that is your donor file. It also helps your donor acquisition efforts pay off — you won’t just be replacing the donors you lose (with less invested ones). And with a solid donor loyalty strategy in place, you cultivate loyalty with new donors from the beginning of the relationship. It’s a win-win situation for your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.


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