5 Donor Retention Strategies to Maintain And Grow Your Base

This is a guest post from Adam Weinger at Double the Donation.

If you’re a nonprofit professional, you likely know that it’s more practical and cost-effective to bring back repeat donors than to be on the search for new ones.

This means that boosting your donor retention rate, or the yearly change in the number of returning donors over the previous year, is the key to running a successful and sustainable organization.

But what happens if you’re having a difficult time engaging with your supporters or noticing an increasing level of lapsed donors? How can you re-capture the hearts and gifts of your generous supporters?

Bringing your fundraising campaigns to the digital sphere is one of the most effective ways to both maintain your current donor network and expand outward. More specifically, using appropriate digital resources can provide actionable insights to start improving donor retention at your nonprofit.

So what’s the key? All fruitful donor relations boil down to effective communication processes. Strengthen your donor retention practices with these 5 digital communication strategies:

  1. Build out your email list.
  2. Grab attention from the start.
  3. Take advantage of effective templates.
  4. Implement A/B testing.
  5. Maximize your media presence.

As we walk through this helpful guide to retaining and attracting new donors with boosted donor retention skills, you’ll receive a combination of top tips and key insights that’ll bring your organization to the next level through a solid growing donor base.

Find out what donors and nonprofits said in our nonprofit survey.

1. Build out your email list.

One of the most basic foundations of a solid communication and donor relations strategy is a strong email marketing plan. Of course, the contents of a well-crafted email are essential to the success of the campaign, but the first step is always to start with building a sufficient email network.

Whether you’re building your email list from scratch or starting with a basic group of supporters, you can give a few of these network-building tactics a try. Be sure to gather donor contact information through all available avenues, including:

  • Appealing CTAs: make your CTAs clear and specific, so that users know what’s being asked of them (in this case, just an email address).
  • Event signups: when supporters register for or sign in at a fundraising event hosted by your organization, make sure to add them to your email network.
  • Donation forms: collect contact information from donation forms when a donor makes a gift, then add them to your email list for ongoing communication.
  • Downloadable resources: offer a practical resource, newsletter, report, or guide that’s made available after a user submits an email address.

Once you’ve established a solid band of email contacts, you’re ready to get started with the outreach portion of your campaign.

However, it’s important to note that you should never stop growing your network. Keep adding new contacts at every opportunity to create a dynamic base of supporters.

Explore the email benchmarks for nonprofits here.

2. Grab attention from the start.

The first few emails you send are the key to ensuring a successful email campaign. If your messages are too dry or generic, you run the risk of new supporters clicking that unsubscribe button right from the get-go.

Avoid losing followers with these tips for writing more engaging emails:

  • Send a welcome/introductory message. Don’t ask for donations in your first email. Maybe the recipient has just given recently, or maybe they’re still figuring out who you are. Either way, it’s good practice to send out a “get to know you” message to further engage supporters without soliciting a donation. Share your nonprofit’s background and current goals so supporters can get better acquainted with the organization.
  • Offer unique ways to get involved. Encourage donors to get involved in a unique way that can grab attention right from their inbox. One great way to do this is through promoting matching gift programs. Try using an intriguing subject line like, “Do you want to make your gift go twice as far?” Donors love the idea of making a bigger impact without a greater cost to them. This way, you can garner attention and increase your open rate and, ultimately, donations.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you. One of the greatest cited reasons for donor lapse is the lack of appreciation by the nonprofit. If a donor doesn’t see the impact of their gift or feel valued by the organization, they’re less than likely to ever give again. Be sure to send out a personalized thank you message to your supporters for every donation made.
  • Keep supporters up to date. On a similar note, donors want to know how their money is being used. Keep your supporters in the loop when it comes to updates on projects and programs being established with the help of donor funding. Include photos to most clearly demonstrate the impact that donors make as well.

With these donor relations tips in mind, you’ll be on the right track to growing and maintaining your donor base through a solid email network in no time. The key, of course, is making sure that your supporters understand your appreciation.

3. Take advantage of effective templates.

When crafting your well-thought-out emails, be sure to see what types of resources are available to streamline basic processes. For example, customizable templates can be one of your greatest tools out there.

Download hundreds of tried-and-true email templates from Fundraising Letters and see which ones best fit your organization’s specific fundraising needs.

These email templates include categories such as:

  • Thank you letters: again, don’t forget to thank your supporters. Include the donor’s name, gift, and date as a way to show that you recognize and value each individual donation.Donation request letters: this may be the most traditional example of a fundraising letter. These templates include suggestions on how to leverage an emotional appeal and use storytelling strategies to gather donations.
  • Sponsorship letters: sponsorships are great opportunities to boost your relationships with local businesses within your community by providing good publicity in response to a gift to your organization. Use these letter templates to bargain with potential new partners.
  • Matching gift requests: use these templates to inform donors about the potential for their gift to be matched by their employer and to encourage them to take the next step to find out.

If you find the perfect template, be sure to personalize your message before you send it out. You’ll want to address the recipient by name and cater to their own relationship with your organization. For example, thanking a donor for their specific gift is more meaningful than a blanket thank-you message.

4. Implement A/B testing.

As you begin crafting and sending emails to your valued donors, how can you find out which strategies are working and which aren’t? How do you decide which email marketing tactic is producing the greatest results? Test multiple options and track the results!

This strategy is known as A/B testing and is one of the most effective marketing tactics you can use. A/B testing is almost like a miniature science experiment, but it’s easier than it sounds. With the right tools, you can easily send one variation of a message to one group of supporters, and another variation to a different group.

This way, you can record and analyze email metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates to clearly see which variation of a message resonated better with its audience.

For example, maybe you decide to test for the most effective subject line. You can send out two identical emails that vary only by subject. Whichever email has the higher open rate, you can assume has a more effective subject line.

As you collect this data, be sure to recognize effective practices to implement in additional messages as you move forward.

5. Maximize your media presence.

In addition to personalized communication, you can boost donor retention rates with an overall increase in your media presence. Media, both digital and traditional, is essential to getting the word out about your organization and its fundraising efforts on a larger scale.

All media platforms can be divided among the categories of paid, owned, and earned media, although the lines between the three have become increasingly blurred. Be sure to leverage a combination of these mediums for the most successful relations strategies:

  • Paid media involves payment to execute, such as digital advertisements, magazine spreads, billboards, and sponsored social media posts. Because the organization pays to get their specific message out, these are often deemed the least trustworthy.
  • Owned media is the platforms that your organization runs for yourself, such as your social media pages, email campaigns, and your website.
  • Earned media is often deemed the most reliable by audience standards, as they’re the least controlled by the organization in question. This includes word of mouth, public relations efforts, and free publicity.

As you work to make the most of your media platforms, be sure that you have a well-thought-out plan to follow to ensure the greatest results. Click here for a comprehensive guide to crafting an effective nonprofit digital strategy.

Wrap up

Boosting donor retention can be a difficult task, but one that’s so important to running an effective and long-lasting nonprofit organization. Donor retention in the modern age is a heavily digital task, so be sure that you have the right tools for the job to get the best results.

With a solid email network, attention-grabbing messaging tactics, templates, and tools, you’ll be seeing steady growth in your donor network in no time.


Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of matching gift tools to nonprofit organizations and educational institutions. Adam created Double the Donation in order to help nonprofits increase their annual revenue through corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn.

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