Did you know: In 2020, the overall donor retention rate was 43.6%, a 4.1% drop from the 2019 rate of 45.4% (AFP). The biggest reason for the decrease was a 9.2% drop in the new donor retention rate (the percentage of donors who gave to a nonprofit in 2019, but not 2020), which isn’t a big surprise (because 2020), but it clearly shows that many of us have an opportunity to boost donor retention rates.

Before we talk about that opportunity and how to maximize it, let’s start here—do you know your own org’s donor retention rate and how it compares to the overall picture? You can calculate it by dividing the number of repeat donors this year by those that donated last year. For example, if you have 159 donors who gave again this year, but had 300 who gave last year, your donor retention rate would be 53%.

Once you have that calculated, set a goal for what you want it to be this time next year, and implement measures to get there over the next 12 months. The good news is this doesn’t have to be a complicated and expensive process. Sometimes a little effort can make a big difference.

Try these five easy steps that go beyond an automated thank-you email to inspire and encourage your donors to stick around for the long haul.

1. Say thank-you in a more creative way.

Your donors know what an automated thank-you looks like, so why not surprise and delight them with something more heartfelt and memorable? Handwritten thank-yous don’t take much time, but they say “you matter” better than an automated form. Or you could take it a step further and make phone calls (enlist your board members!). It doesn’t have to be a long conversation—just a quick “welcome and thank you for your gift” could suffice.

2. Invite them to get involved in another way.

Need volunteers? A team of brand advocates who can help you spread awareness on social media? A guest writer for your blog? New event attendees? Present opportunities for your donors to engage in ways that go beyond making a donation. It’s a win/win—you get the help you need, and they get to know your org up-close, deepening their passion for and commitment to your cause.

3. Create a video, creative annual report or series of blog posts (including images) showing donors what their gifts are accomplishing.

You can write about this in a newsletter or email, but wouldn’t it be great to create a visual story that really pulls your donors in? It doesn’t have to be long or professionally done—just clear, concise and heartfelt, without jargon, but loaded with all the passion you have for the people your nonprofit serves and supports. Be sure this important message comes through: “We could not accomplish our mission without your invaluable support.”

4. Embrace the digital event trend.

We know that everyone is anxious to reconnect in person and get together in the same room, and there will certainly be a welcome return to in-person events as the pandemic subsides. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop hosting digital or virtual events. There are so many upsides to hosting digital events, including reduced costs for your org and low barrier to attendance for your supporters. The athleisure trend isn’t going anywhere, and many people have realized how easy it is to connect with people without leaving their homes or losing their joggers. In fact, we have a free ebook that’ll help you plan your next nonprofit event, complete with tips on how to make it one of your most successful fundraisers.

5. Be sure donors have all the tools they need to make it easy to support you.

What’s your online donation process like? Is it seamless, trustworthy and simple? Do you send donors to a third-party site to make their gift, or can they do it easily on your website? How does your website look on mobile? Do donors have to pinch and zoom all around to find the Donate button, or are you using a responsive design that ensures your site looks great on any device? It’s good to put yourself in your donor’s seat and look at their experience with your organization through their eyes. We often get tunnel vision and look at these kinds of things with an insider’s view, but it’s necessary to see your organization and the tools you offer from their perspective—what you learn can give you insight into how to boost donor retention.

Start with this worksheet to boost donor retention.

One more tip: Download our free new worksheet, “5 Metrics to Measure: Your Secret Sauce to Online Fundraising Success.” This interactive worksheet will help you understand what numbers to measure, why they matter and how they can inform the marketing decisions you make in order to boost your fundraising and turn one-time donors into loyal supporters.


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