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1-1-1: Five Ways to Retain Your Donors



1 lesson from me

As you are fully aware, donor retention is paramount. Here in the U.S., we only retain 43.6% of our overall donors yearly. It's even worse for first-time donors, with an average retention rate of only 18%. Instead of obsessing about finding new donors, we should be laser-focused on keeping the ones we have.

Retaining donors can reduce our fundraising cost per dollar raised, and it helps us maximize lifetime giving values.

1. The first way to retain your donors? Research says donors want prompt and accurate gift acknowledgment.

Prompt, meaning mail your gift acknowledgment letters within 48 to 72 hours of gift receipt. And no, your online gift "auto-responder" doesn't count.

Accurate, meaning proper salutation, correct gift amount, mention of restrictions, if there are any. And hand-sign the letter with a personal note.

2. The second way is to engage them in the "work." Maybe they're distributing backpacks for back-to-school. Serving meals to the homeless in your community. Lending a hand on "pet adoption day" at the shelter. Reading to children in the lobby of your health clinic. Or attending the lecture of a researcher working to find a cure for a disease.

3. Third way? Gratitude calls from your board members. Not easy because our board members are busy people. And you'll never get all of them to make calls. But if you can get a few to make gratitude calls, you will retain more donors. Penelope Burk of Cygnus Research reports:

  • 95% of survey respondents would appreciate a Board Member calling to say thank you within a few days of making a gift.
  • 85% would definitely or probably support the charity again if this call happened.
  • 86% would definitely or probably give a larger gift if they received a thank you call.

4. The fourth way to retain donors is by sharing how their gifts are making a difference. Reporting impact and outcomes is crucial to keeping your donors. Some donors want data and stats. But they ALL need to hear impact stories of how they are helping to make a difference.

5. Last, the fifth way to retain your donors is by spending quality time with them. There's no substitute for meaningful face time with your top supporters. In those one-to-one or small group conversations, trust is built, and relationships are strengthened. Involve your CEO, Executive Director, Board Member, and peer-to-peer supporters in those meetings. You will see your donor retention and gift values soar.

Want more strategies and tools to help improve your donor retention? Join my Fundraising Transformers Community as a Growth member and get instant access to my 4-Part Donor Retention Training Series. 


1 quote from someone else

"It takes so much less effort and less dollars to retain and keep an existing donor than it does to attract a new one."

Source: Jay Love, Co-Founder of Bloomerang, Tech Entrepreneur, Fundraiser, Board Member, Keynote Speaker & Author


1 question for you 

I'd love to hear from you. What are some of the strategies and tools you use to retain your donors? 

To share, just sign-up for a free Mentor membership in my Fundraising Transformers Community. After you log in, click "Lessons Learned" under "Mentor" in the left sidebar and share your thoughts.


Keep transforming your fundraising,
Tammy Zonker
Fundraising Strategist & Keynote Speaker

Recognized as one of America’s Top 20 Fundraising Experts
Creator of the Fundraising Transformers Community 


p.s. You may also find helpful A Guide to Donor Retention by Bloomerang.

p.p.s. If you find this lesson helpful, please forward this post to someone else you know who may benefit.



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1-1-1: Five Ways to Retain Your Donors

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