donor retention

There are hundreds of little ways to build donor relationships and keep people giving (it’s called donor retention).

Unfortunately, there are probably several things that you’re messing up which is turning your donors off and discouraging them from giving to you again.

That means even if you have good donor retention strategies, you may be shooting yourself in the foot by making some preventable mistakes.

I know that you’re really busy trying to raise money. But here’s the truth:

[bctt tweet=”If you don’t spend time creating a wonderful experience for your donors (which improves your donor retention), you’ll never raise all the money you need.” username=”@sandyrees”]

Donors typically won’t tell you what they think, partly because you’re not giving them the chance to and partly because they’re too nice to say anything.

But if they DID tell you, what you might hear may just surprise you.

Donors care about your work. Your best donors WANT to see you succeed.

They also want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit.

That’s where paying attention to all the little details is critical.

So, how can you give donors a fantastic experience and keep them giving, increasing your donor retention rate?

Here are 46 things your donor might say to you if you could get them to open up.

General Communications

donor retention1. Misspelled words. When you have misspelled words in your emails and newsletters, it makes me wonder if I matter to you. I really want you to be professional, because it makes me feel more confident when I give you money. Misspelled words make me question whether you’re the best charity for me to support.

2. Poor grammar. Same as misspelled words. If you can’t take a minute to proof your materials, how do I know you’re getting it right with your programs?

3. Jargon & Acronyms. There are so many things you write that mean nothing to me. I don’t understand the acronyms. Please excuse my ignorance and keep it simple so I can easily understand.

4. Insider language. I don’t understand the slang and I feel like an outsider when I see it.

5. Too much text. Maybe your other donors read everything you write, but I just don’t have time. When I see a page full of text, I cringe inside. Honestly, I don’t have time to read it, even if it’s important. Keep it simple and get straight to the point.

6. Confusing program names or logos. I don’t understand sometimes what you’re talking about – are there multiple organizations here? Or are these programs? I can’t tell. It may make sense to you, but I don’t get it.

7. Unclear or vague communication. Sometimes you send me things that I just can’t figure out. Are you thanking me, giving me an update or asking for money? Please be clear so that I don’t have to wonder what you want.

8. Dull, dry, & boring. I love reading stories about lives you’re changing. They make me feel proud that I’m helping make something happen. Some of the things you send me have no emotion in them and they’re very dry and hard to read. You may think it’s professional, but I find it boring. Tell me a story about a life you’ve changed! Don’t be stingy with the good stuff.

9. No photos. I love to see your work in action! Please share more good photos!

10. Bad photos. Send me GOOD photos where I can see what’s going on. Some of the photos you share don’t hit the mark. The people are all standing in a line and far away. I can’t see their faces to tell if I know any of them. It reminds me of the basketball team shot from my high school yearbook.

11. Not responding to my call or email promptly. If I have a question and call you or email, please get back to me in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, I wonder if you got my message, or if you’re just so busy you can’t get back to me. If you’re too busy for me, that means I’m just a number in your database, and maybe you don’t really need my donation. I don’t like feeling like a number.

12. Being rude or unfriendly. I get it that you and your co-workers are busy. But it sure hurts my feelings when I call or visit and people are unfriendly, especially if I’ve gone out of my way to visit or drop off a donation.

13. Not giving me a way to come see your work for myself. I’d love to have a tour of your program. Why don’t you offer a tour that I could participate in? It doesn’t have to be private – I’d be happy to be part of a group.

14. Predictable subject lines. I won’t even open an email with a subject line of “March Newsletter.” I can guess what’s inside. Show me that you’re on the ball and use a subject line that intrigues me. Otherwise, you may get lost in my inbox.

15. Being mediocre. What are you doing that’s really exciting and making a difference? I don’t want to support organizations that are simply keeping the doors open. I want to be part of something that’s changing our community!

Requests for money

donor retention1. Constantly asking for money without any real reason why. Why is it that almost every time I hear from you, you’re asking for money? And you don’t usually tell me what you’re going to do with the money. I like knowing what my donation will do.

2. Asking for support for your Annual Fund or Annual Campaign. I don’t really care about those and honestly, I don’t even understand what they are. Maybe you could put this into terms I can understand?

3. Including too many statistics. I’m sure they’re important, but all those numbers are overwhelming.

4. Including too many detailed updates. I’m not as familiar with your programs as you may think I am, and I don’t really understand everything you share. I usually skip over those parts and look for a story, photo, or video.

5. Asking me to do too many things. When you ask me to donate, sign up to volunteer, and buy an event ticket in the same request, I’m not sure which one to do. I usually set that request aside to come back to it later, which of course, I don’t get around to. Please be clear and ask me for just one thing at a time. I’m happy to support you, but sometimes I just don’t know what to do to best help you.

6. Making me search for the “donate” button on your website. I went online the other day to make a donation, and I looked all over your website but still couldn’t figure out where to give. I’ve seen other sites where it was easy to donate – I wish your site was like that, too.

7. Making me go through multiple pages and fill out too many forms to make a simple donation online. For some reason, I get really aggravated when I have to jump through a bunch of hoops to give online. Please make it simple. I don’t like it when it’s complicated! And I REALLY don’t want to create an account of some kind just to make a donation! It makes me want to find another nonprofit that makes giving easy.


donor retention1. Not calling me back when I leave a message. I’d love to get more involved and maybe volunteer in your program or serve on a committee. I’ve called and left messages, and I don’t understand why no one calls me back. Aren’t you getting my voice mails?

2. Having committee meetings where nothing is accomplished and it’s a complete waste of my time. Please run a good meeting so we can be productive and get things done. I can’t stand meetings where we talk in a circle and never really decide on anything or get anything done. Or when no one seems to be in charge. Or there’s no real agenda. My time is valuable and I don’t want to waste it on a really unproductive meeting.

3. Cancelling committee meetings or volunteer activities at the last minute and not telling me. Everyone’s time is important, and everyone deserves the courtesy of not having their time wasted. Just let me know if something is cancelled. You have my phone number and email – shoot me a quick message.

4. Not being ready for me when I show up for my volunteer shift. When I carve time out of my schedule to volunteer, I expect you to be ready for me when I get there. I see it as a mutual commitment – I commit to come help and you commit to being ready for me.

5. Not helping me be ready to volunteer. Give me a heads up about what I need to know to have a good volunteer experience. What do I need to wear? How long will I be there? Do I need to bring water or a snack? Helping me feel prepared will start things off on the right foot.

6. Not making me feel welcome when I come to volunteer. I’m excited to become part of your team. Please make me feel valued and wanted. I’m likely to come back again if I’m feeling good about it. Otherwise, I’ll find something else to do where I can be appreciated.

7. Not showing me where the restroom is or giving me a break so I can use it. Basic things are important. Don’t expect me to work like a slave while I’m there. Just be hospitable and remember that I may not be used to this kind of work or working for extended periods of time. I may need more breaks than you usually take.

8. Not relieving me at the end of my volunteer shift so that I can go home. Don’t leave me hanging at the end of my shift, especially if I can’t leave until someone else takes my place.


donor retention1. Sending me an invitation to an event that happens this week. Come on! Give me a little more notice! I can’t just drop everything to attend your event.

2. Making it hard to register. Don’t make me have to work hard to give you money to buy a ticket. Make the registration process easily and painless with as few steps as possible.

3. Not giving me adequate information once I have registered. I’ll need details if you want me to actually show up to the event, like where the event is being held, what time it starts, what to wear, or where to park.

4. Not giving me a way to tell you about my strict dietary needs. No explanation needed here.

5. Not welcoming me or thanking me at the event. I attended an event recently where the volunteers at the registration table seemed really unhappy. No one welcomed me or thanked me for coming. I felt like I was somehow inconveniencing them and I kinda wanted to leave.

6. Letting the event drag on. Please put on a good event, with a program that moves along at a reasonable pace. I hate it when programs drag and speakers are boring. I have better things to do than suffer through another dull event even if it’s for a good cause.

7. Making me wait in a LONG line to check out after the silent auction is over. Surely there’s technology you can use that will speed this process up. I once waited for almost 2 hours to check out after a silent auction closed. I was madder than a wet hen!

8. Not telling me how much the event raised or telling me months afterward. After the event, I’ll be curious to know how you did. Please tell me. Oh, and don’t make me wait months to find out. By then I will have forgotten.

After I’ve given

donor retention1. Not thanking me. This is just rude. If I give you money, the least you can do is say “Thank you.”

2. Thanking me weeks afterward. Why should it take weeks to send me a thank-you letter? By then I’ve already either forgotten or given up on hearing from you, and either way, I’ve probably already decided not to give again.

3. Sending the thank-you letter addressed to my husband when I was the one who made the decision to give and wrote the check. Are we living in the middle ages? If I signed the check or clicked the button, thank me, not him. He doesn’t even know I made a donation.

4. Sending me the same dry, boring letter you sent me last year. Surely there’s someone there who can write a nice, warm thank-you letter.

5. Sending me a LONG thank-you letter, stuffed full of 25-cent words, with nothing that’s interesting to me. I don’t have time to read all that, and I know before I start that there’s nothing interesting in it.

6. Including a reply envelope in the letter. Really? You can’t just thank me and leave it at that? Frankly, I’m insulted when you put an envelope in with the letter. It feels like all you want is my money.

7. Not giving me any reason to think my gift made a difference or how it’s being used. I really want to make a difference. I want to be part of something good in this world. It would mean a lot to me if you could tell me that my money is changing someone’s life.

8. Not providing me with a way to contact you or give you feedback. Maybe you could put the name and phone number or email of a specific person in the thank you letter. Sometimes I have a quick question and I’d love to know who to call.

The Bottom Line

The better job you do of giving people a good experience when they give, the more likely they are to give again.

It’s called stewardship and it’s critical if you want to keep your donor retention rate as high as possible.