The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

4 Steps to Improve New Donor Retention

wiping out on surfboard

Flickr: dannyboymalinga

You and your colleagues do a good-to-great job of bringing new donors in the door. You’re thrilled to welcome new supporters until you never hear from them again.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. The 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) report highlights that 81% of first-time donors never give again.

Here’s the good news: You can change this gloomy scenario. In fact, a 10% rise in donor retention leads to a significant giving gain in the long term!

Here are four steps to help you start reaching that 10% goal.

Step 1:  List the steps you take in response to a first-time gift.

  • Focus on the first three months after the gift, your now-or-never time. Start building this relationship the moment you meet your first-time donor.
    Ask yourself three questions about donor experiences:
  1. What is your donor’s experience on giving to your organization?
  2. What does she hear from whom, via which channels, on what timeline?
  3. What actions do you take internally?
  • Share responses with key colleagues and ask for input on anything you’ve overlooked.

Step 2:  Compare your organization’s process with this New Donor Checklist to Success and prioritize the easy fixes.

  • Brainstorm to find quick, easy, and high-impact changes you can make in the next few weeks (phase one). For example, change the “from:”field and signature on thank you and welcome emails to come from your development or executive director, rather than from the organizational entity. Personal is powerful!
  • Cut lower-priority tasks from your list to make time for new-donor work.
  • Add these tasks to the process you outlined in step one, then share these guidelines as your organization’s own new donor checklist.
  • Add fixes that are significant retention risks, but take more time and effort to address, to your Phase Two work plan. A common phase two focus is strengthening, or implementing, your donor management system or process.
  • Hold second-tier relationship-building to-dos for subsequent phases.

Step 3:  Assess your current new donor retention rate.

The Secret of First-Time Donor Retention Success: YMCA Case Study

Ryan Johnson, regional collaboration manager for YMCA of the USA, spends his days helping local YMCAs improve their fundraising.

Last spring, he ran a local Y through the FEP Fitness Test to identify what was working well, and what could be improved. Results revealed that the Y boasted an astounding 63% retention rate for new donors giving $250 or more, versus a 23% retention rate for those giving at lower levels.

Despite Ryan’s determination to find the secret of this success, he turned up nothing. Y fundraisers insisted the same communications went out to all new donors.  In time, they remembered that the new donors in the $250 and more group were the only ones to receive handwritten thank you notes. Eureka!

Few organizations can respond to all new donors with a handwritten note. But Ryan’s deep look at the Y’s success in building relationships with its higher-level new donors highlights these must-dos:

  • Get as personal as possible with as many new donors as you can. That may be a phone call in some cases, a handwritten note in others, and a hand-signed note or “personalized” email for other groups.
  • Segment! It’s the only way you’ll be able to court your new donors in the most productive and relevant way.
  • Look at the long-term in building relationships with new donors.
  • Document and share your new-donor cultivation process and revise on an ongoing basis as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

Thanks for the great detective work, Ryan!

Read more about Ryan’s first-time donor discovery and recommendations.

Step 4:  Advocate to the powers that be for the talent, time, and budget it takes to build out your first-time donor relationship-building program.

  • Show your boss why the way you build relationships with new donors has to change with this infographic summary of FEP survey results. Pictures do speak louder than words.
  • Bring the conversation from the general to the specific, focusing in on your organization’s first-time donor retention record. Go ahead and share your FEP Fundraising Fitness Test There’s power in acknowledging that your organization’s approach needs to change, and sharing your concrete, evidence-based recommendations for improvement.
  • Be prepared to show what it will take and the projected return on investment.

Now that you have the tools, it’s time to start working. Please feel free to share any comments or questions by reaching out to me on Twitter. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

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About This Blog

Lisa Bonanno
Vice President of Digital Marketing

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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