The moment that a donor clicks on a “Donate” button or mails in a check is a moment of celebration. And you should celebrate — pop the champagne and pass around the finger food. You deserve it!

But a donor’s first gift shouldn’t be your organization’s endgame. It should be the start of a journey: a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with your organization.

 

It’s vital that your organization builds a donor retention strategy.

I like to think of donor retention as a reciprocal relationship. Retaining donors is more cost-effective for your organization, and donors who return to give again receive the satisfaction of feeling engaged and invested in a worthy cause.

Why wouldn’t you want an engaged, active donor base? And why wouldn’t donors want to feel passionate about their gifts?

We all know that retaining donors is important, but how can you get started with an effective strategy?

To better retain your donors, you should:

  1. Give donors choices.
  2. Let donors pay in their own way.
  3. Show donors their impact.
  4. Build your nonprofit’s brand.

These top 4 strategies go beyond sending an effective thank you letter. They get to the heart of why donors decide to stay or go!

To improve donor retention, give them choices.

1. Give donors choices.

The ability to choose is empowering. It turns a passive decision into an active one.

When donors are able to actively choose how they want to support your mission, they’ll be more likely to return to your nonprofit.

Why?

Put yourself in your donors’ shoes!

Wouldn’t you rather give in the way that’s right for you than be told what to do? Wouldn’t you rather choose how your funds will be used so that you can envision the specific cause that you’re helping?

Choices allow donors to take ownership of their gifts. Plus, the ability to choose keeps their attention as they go through the donation process (when the power is in your hands, each decision matters!).

Nonprofits can create choices for donors in a myriad of ways, but here are some of the most effective means of doing so:

  • Provide donors with multiple ways to give. Put donating in your donors’ hands by providing them with multiple ways to give. Donors are diverse, and they all have different preferences about how they’d like to engage with your nonprofit. Mobile devices, custom websites, traditional mail — the list goes on. By supporting as many donation outlets as possible, you’ll empower your donors to give in the way that they want.
  • Create giving tiers. Giving tiers allow your nonprofit to guide donors toward certain donation amounts that would be helpful for your organization. At the same time, donors can choose the amount that’s right for them with the convenient click of a button. Giving tiers are a great way to provide options without leaving money on the table!
  • Let them choose their campaign. Donors should be able to contribute to the campaign that they’re most passionate about. Lay out specific causes that they can choose to donate to (i.e. save tree frogs or save koalas). Doing so can connect donors more deeply to your mission because they know exactly how their donation will be used. Plus, donors will be reassured that their donations are going to the cause they care about most!

When nonprofits create choices for their donors, they’re engaging their donors in a more meaningful way.

The short-and-sweet version: When donors can choose how they give, they’ll feel empowered by your organization. Retaining donors is about partnering with them to accomplish your mission, not about telling them what to do.

Retain more donors by letting pay how they'd like to.

2. Let donors pay in their own way.

Have you ever done any online shopping on a user-friendly website? The process is practically painless and often pretty fun (especially a week or two later, when your purchases arrive on your doorstep). On the flipside, a tedious payment process isn’t just annoying; it can deter you from following through with your purchase.

Just like in online shopping, your online donation forms need to contribute to an easy, rewarding, and fun giving process.

Following in the theme from our first point, your donors should have the choice to pay as they please.

That means that your organization should:

  • Offer multiple giving channels. The more giving channels you offer your donors, the more likely you’ll be to meet their preferences. Just because a donor has given from a mobile device doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t prefer to mail in a check or give through a website. Providing options increases the chances that a donor will give again.
  • Accept major credit and debit cards. American Express, Visa, Mastercard — without these credit card giants, your organization is missing out on donations. If your donors even manage to make it through the giving process the first time, they’ll be hard-pressed to return if you don’t accept the credit cards that work virtually anywhere else.
  • Support ACH payments. ACH payments are essentially eChecks, where a donor makes a contribution directly from their bank account. All a donor has to do is input their bank account and routing number into your online donation form. Accepting ACH payments is important to donor retention because these payments are the only way for donors to set up automatic recurring gifts.

If donors can give on-the-go, and if they can make a donation just as easily as they can purchase a t-shirt online, then they’ll be much more likely to give again.

After all, a simple, convenient, and versatile giving process allows donors to fit giving into their daily lives. Say it with me again: simple, convenient, versatile!

The better you can embody those three little words, the easier donating will be for your supporters.

The short-and-sweet version: Your donors are busy! Meet their needs by providing them with different payment options to make the giving process as painless (and as enjoyable!) as possible.

You'll increase donor retention if you show them their impact.

3. Show donors their impact.

We all know that you should spend a great deal of time and energy thanking your donors. Yes, all of them, not just your most generous supporters.

After all, a small $50 gift can easily grow into hundreds or thousands of dollars over time if you retain a donor. How’s that for “big things come in small packages”?

That’s why it’s important that you adopt an effective recognition strategy.

One of the best ways to do just that is to show donors their impact.

When donors give to your organization, they want to see that their donations matter. Donors give to help the people, communities, and animals that they care about. If your nonprofit doesn’t provide an update on the wellbeing of your aid recipients, then your donors may feel like their gifts didn’t make an impact.

Showing impact involves updating donors when you’ve reached a milestone in your cause. It also means telling a story so that donors have a clear picture of who has been helped and why their donations matter.

Donors may have been compelled to give in the first place, but it’s your job to show them the outcome of their gifts so that they’ll feel inspired to give again (and again, and again!).

In other words, donors need you to fill in the rest of the story.

To do so, send donors a custom thank-you that recognizes their effort.

Some examples include:

  • Videos.
  • Photos.
  • Personal thank you notes.
  • Tokens of appreciation.
  • Infographics.
  • Stewardship events.
  • Phone calls.

No matter what channel you choose to use, the main focus should be on the people you’re helping, not on your nonprofit. If possible, let the recipients of your aid speak for themselves and send their thanks to your donors.

Get creative! The more effort you put into your donor recognition, the more appreciated your donors will feel. As a result, they’ll be more willing to contribute to your organization again.

If you need some ideas to get started, check out these top crowdfunding campaigns, many of which provide in-depth updates to their contributors! Take heed of these successful campaigns; showing donors why their gifts matter is part of the thanking process.

Remember, donors are the heart of your organization. You need them to survive. Show them how invaluable they are.

The short-and-sweet version: Donors are more likely to give again if they feel that their gifts were meaningful and impactful. Show them their impact with custom, personal, and creative thank-yous.

Build up your brand to increase donor retention.

4. Build your nonprofit’s brand.

“Brand” may sound like a corporate buzzword, but it’s relevant to nonprofits, too.

Imagine you visit a restaurant. You have an amazing experience; the food is delicious, the service is quick, and the ambiance puts you in the perfect mood.

A few months later, you’re looking for a place to eat. You think back to the wonderful experience you had, but you can’t remember the name of the restaurant, or even what it looks like. How will you find your way back?

The same is true for making a donation. Even if a donor has a great experience with your nonprofit, that doesn’t mean they’ll give again. Your nonprofit needs to make an impression, so that donors always remember and recognize your organization.

Becoming memorable to your donors is easier said than done, but a strong brand will help your organization stick in your donors’ minds.

Plus, branding is important for establishing trust with your donors. When donors feel that they know who your organization is, they’ll be more likely to contribute to and support your cause.

Even though branding your nonprofit isn’t direct stewardship, this practice can strengthen your nonprofit on the whole.

So how can you build a brand that will help you retain donors?

Consistency is key.

Build out all of the important branding considerations in a style guide.

These considerations include your nonprofit’s:

  • Name.
  • Logo.
  • Mission statement.
  • Colors.
  • Fonts
  • Images.
  • Tone.

The idea is that anyone who uses the style guide could create content for your nonprofit that remains on-brand. This solution is sustainable, and it sets up your nonprofit for long term success.

Creating a system for all of these elements will give donors a clearer picture of who exactly your nonprofit is as an organization. Plus, the more recognizable you are, the more easily donors can connect to your cause.

Take a look at these top nonprofit websites to get a clear picture of strong branding. Each website showcases the nonprofit in question with powerful and memorable branding.

The short-and-sweet version: For donors to give again, they have to remember, recognize, and trust your organization. A strong brand can ensure that donors know who your organization is long after their first gift.


We know that donor retention is vital to your success as a nonprofit.

These 4 strategies can help you create a positive giving experience that will draw your donors back to your organization, time and time again!

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