The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

The Secret Sauce of Donor Retention: Gratitude + Great Communication

If your organization is like most nonprofits, you concentrate your fundraising efforts on donor acquisition. That’s understandable! Donors are your organization’s lifeblood, and they need to be inspired each year to support your good work.

The dirty little secret of development is that only 27% of donors in a given year will give again the next year. So, 73% of your hard-won donors love you one year and leave you the next.

What does that equate to in real numbers? Here’s the eye-popping reality if you’re a development pro: A retention rate at the national average of 27% means only 19 of 1,000 donors will remain after three years.

Starting Number of Donors Retention Rate Donors Remaining After One Year Donors Remaining After Two Years Donors Remaining After Three Years Total Donations, with an Average Gift of $500
1,000 15% 150 22 3 $1,500
1,000 27% 270 72 19 $9,500
1,000 50% 500 250 125 $62,500

Donor acquisition is expensive! The cost to acquire a donor is five to six times the cost to retain an existing supporter. Increases in donor retention are powerful. In the table above, you can see that a 1.8x increase in retention, from 27% to 50%, results in a 6.6x increase in donors and donations!

Give love to get love.

There is a way to keep more donors engaged with your organization: Genuine gratitude combined with great communication.

The first step is to make the commitment to communicate with donors regularly and meaningfully. Author and researcher Penelope Burk recommends as many as 12 touches per year when stewarding donors.

Mix your methods and messages. Make thank you calls. Write personal notes. Share a client’s story. Extend invitations to events and client activities.

Make it about the donor, not you. Genuine gratitude is not a stock “thank you for your donation” message. It is authentic and conveys the three Ms:

  • You matter—your donation accomplished something tangible.
  • You made a difference in someone’s life.
  • Your gift was meaningful, no matter how big or small.

Whenever possible, include visuals or a video. This video from ARC effectively brings to life the impact made possible through donors’ generosity.

Need help with your thank you letters?

Download our email template to help you get started.

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

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

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