donor retention strategies

Valentine’s Day is not just for couples. It’s a great time of year for some hot donor retention strategies!

The holiday reminds us that everyone deserves love and attention.

That includes donors, too.

It’s one of my favorite holidays to spread a little love to my donors.

As a Development Director, I used to get kids’ Valentine cards and send them to my best donors. Many of them were widows and loved the fact that someone was thinking of them.

Showering your donors with love shows them you care and that you’re thinking of them. It shows that you care about more than just their wallet.

I teach my clients that offering warm touches – the little things that warm a donor’s heart and make them feel good – are THE BEST donor retention strategies to keep people giving.

So, let me share 14 of my favorite ones so you can make the most of Valentine’s Day this year!

14 Donor Retention Strategies You Can Use Now

Donor retention is all about doing what you need to do to keep donors giving.

After all, it’s easier to get another gift from a current donor than to go find new donors. (Though you need to do that, too).

Donor retention is SO important that it gets its own section in fundraising plans that my team and I create for clients.

And the good news is that increasing donor retention isn’t that hard.

It’s a matter of seeing donors as people who care about your mission, just like you, and being thoughtful.

Using that mindset, here are 14 of my favorite donor retention strategies to be thoughtful toward your donors to keep them engaged and giving.

1. Call or text. When was the last time you got a thank-you call from anyone? Most of the time when my phone rings, it’s a robo call, and I don’t answer it. I don’t think anyone answers the phone anymore if it’s a number they don’t recognize. But, a call from a nonprofit can be well received. I got a voice mail from one of my favorite nonprofits just last week, simply thanking me for my support, and I really appreciated it. Another nonprofit I support sends me update texts about once a quarter, and those are fun, too.

Certainly, abide by the donor’s wishes. If they’ve asked you not to call or indicate that they don’t text, don’t try this. And you may not have many phone numbers. But for the donors who you DO have a phone number for, give it a shot and see what happens. Chances are good that if you connect with someone, they’ll really appreciate it.

2. Handwritten note. Handwritten notes are one of the best donor retention strategies ever! Who doesn’t love a handwritten note of gratitude? A kitchen-table style note makes the reader feel like they’re sitting at the kitchen table with you, chatting over a cup of coffee. It has a warm, conversational feel to it. Here’s a great example from BESTWA:

3. Notes from the front line. Anytime you can share stories from the trenches of your programs, donors love it. They like hearing from program staff how lives are being changed. Even better is when you can share a note from a client expressing their gratitude for the organization and how their life is better.

Here’s a great example featured on the website of Loudon County Habitat for Humanity:

4. Email updates. People love to know the rest of the story. When you tell a story to ask people to give, circle back later with an update so they know what happened. It completes the story in the donor’s mind and helps her understand how her gift made a difference. It also closes the giving loop so the donor feels complete with the donation and starts to feel ready to give again.

5. Newsletters with all the feelz. Ok, let’s be honest for a minute. Most nonprofit newsletters are crap. They’re boring, self-centered, and poorly written. Email newsletters come with snoozer subject lines. It’s no wonder open rates are so bad!

Turn that upside down with a newsletter full of emotion. Share an update on a story or a program, then include just a few other things – maybe a wish list, a ‘Save the Date’ section, and a ‘Get Involved’ section. The trick to a good newsletter is to keep it short and interesting to the donor.

Here’s a great example from the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. Notice how they start off with lots of great photos that make you say, “Awww.” Next is a shot of the update portion of the newsletter, which also makes you feel good that they’re saving lots of lives. (There’s more to this newsletter – just wanted to share these 2 sections with you.)

6. Video updates. Video is the next best thing to being there in person, and one of the best warm touches you can give a donor. Many of my clients shoot and send thank-you videos regularly, especially during the holidays, and see fantastic results.

One of the nice things about video is that it doesn’t have to be professionally done. You can shoot video with your smart phone, upload it to YouTube and send the donor the link. You probably have a video editing tool on your computer to let you add your logo or a link to your website if you want.

Here’s a great thank you/update video from Clowns Without Borders. Notice how short it is? Videos don’t have to be long to have big impact, and honestly, the shorter the better.

7. Facility tour. Donors love seeing for themselves the good work your organization does, so invite them for a personal tour of your place. I learned this years ago and started including a sentence offering a tour in every thank-you letter I sent out. I didn’t get many takers, but people loved having the invitation. It showed we were open to their visit and that openness builds trust. You can include an invitation in your newsletter, offer it to your best donors, or just host a regular tour day (like the first Saturday of every month).

Here’s a story from my own personal experience of what can happen when a donor comes for a tour:

8. Invite their questions or comments. Think of someone who is a close friend of yours. You talk/text/email them regularly, don’t you? It makes sense that if you’re building relationships with donors, you’d want to do the same thing. So make it clear that your donor can call or email (or text if you want that) ANYTIME with questions, concerns or praise. Put it in your thank-you letter, on your website, in your newsletter – anywhere your donors will find it. You may not have many takers, but they’ll appreciate that you offered.

9. Birthday cards. Most people like to have their special day recognized, and with Facebook, it’s easy to find out when that day is. Actually, Facebook is great for learning all kinds of things about donors! You can have a special birthday card printed or grab some at the dollar store. Handwrite the address and add a personal note – that’s what makes this a warm touch. Once you create a system for getting these cards done and in the mail, it’s not a big deal on your end and creates goodwill for your donors.

We send out birthday cards to clients every year, and they really enjoy them. Meghan loved hers so much she shared it on Instagram! Wouldn’t you love your donors sharing something you sent them on social media?

donor retention strategies

10. Remember other special days. Depending on your organization, there may be other special days you can remember. For our animal welfare clients, we encourage them to remember “Gotcha Day” (the day the donor adopted their pet). Since most people who adopt consider their pets family, a simple card honoring the occasion will score pretty high on the warm touch thermometer. Other nonprofits honor the date the donor first got involved, took their first class, or attended their first performance. Obviously, you have to keep good records for this to work. Get creative about the special days for your donors and celebrate with them.

11. Share their lifetime giving. Speaking of keeping good records, you should be able to let a donor know how much they’ve given total to your organization. What a fun update for a donor to find out how much they’ve donated over the years and how much good it has done! Pair that with a note from the front lines and that’s a doubled effect for making the donor feel good!

12. Tax Summary Letter. At tax time, you can make a donor’s life much easier by providing them with a Tax Summary Letter of their giving for the year. It’s a great time to remind the donor of the good they helped you do. We encourage you to do this for ALL of your donors who gave in the year, not just ones over a certain giving threshold (like $250). Note: Don’t ask for anything in this letter. Simply be helpful and provide information.

Here’s a good example from Planned Pethood of Georgia. Not only did they send a good, short letter, but there was a postcard-size piece included with photos of some of the animals they saved (lots of feelz there!).

donor retention strategies

13. Impact Report. More and more, people are dropping their old-style annual report in favor of something shorter, more interesting, and donor focused. They’re calling it an impact report or generosity report and using it to share what the donor made possible. The old-style format of 12-16 pages of slick, glossy paper full of stiff letters from the Board and mind-numbing numbers simply doesn’t work anymore. What does work is a story of a life changed and infographic-style presentation of key numbers.

Many of our clients use a 1-Page Annual Report to quickly show the donors the impact their gift helped create. It’s basically a large infographic that donors can quickly read and absorb. Here’s an example from Draft Gratitude:

donor retention strategies

14. Naming opportunities. For some donors, having something named after them is special. It doesn’t have to be big to be meaningful. Maybe you can plant some trees on your property and name them after donors. Or for animal rescue groups, name a puppy or kitten after a donor. Get creative here – the sky’s the limit for ways you can acknowledge your donor and their generosity.

The Bottom Line

Valentine’s Day comes just once each year, and it’s a great time to show your donors some love. But you can shower your donor with love all year long. Use these donor retention strategies to get you started.

Then brainstorm with your staff, Board, and volunteers to see what ideas YOU can come up with!

The more connected your donors feel to your nonprofit, the more likely they’ll be to stick around and keep giving. And that will make fundraising easier and more fun for you!