How to Retain and Grow Your Donor Base
On average, nonprofit organizations lose more than 60 percent of donors each year. If you’re too focused on chasing new donors, you’re missing the low-hanging fruit already within reach—your existing donors. As you embark on a new year, start by looking to retain and upgrade those who already invest in your organization.
Engaging Current and Lapsed Donors
Create a development plan that maps out all the ways you will engage with current donors to inspire them to want to sustain—and deepen—their investment in you. What do you know about your donors, beyond their giving history? Do you understand why they stay and why they leave? Survey your current and lapsed donors once a year to discover what attracts them to your nonprofit, how well your communications are received, and if there are additional ways donors would like to be involved with your organization. Send a similar survey to lapsed donors to find out why they left (and how you might win them back). Tailor the activities in your development plan around the following metrics:
- Total number of donors: You want to maintain at least the same number of donors year over year. Are you communicating with them in a way that they feel valued enough to stay?
- Total number of new donors: How many new donors did you gain this past year? What are some ways you can connect with those first-time donors that will encourage a second gift? How can you introduce your organization to at least as many new donors in the new year?
- Total number of donors that lapsed (two fiscal years prior compared to last fiscal year): What can you do through communications and outreach strategies to try to regain their support this year?
Growing Your Donor Base
Fundraising success is about more than just meeting financial goals. It’s about understanding what’s important to donors and building trust. Growing your donor base isn’t just about acquiring new donors. It’s also about upgrading existing donors by increasing their level or frequency of giving, or both. Knowing why your current donors support you is a springboard to finding like-minded donors in your prospecting research.
Cultivate Diverse Sources
A sustainable fundraising model has diverse revenue streams. If your funding generally comes from one source more than any other, it’s time to create balance. When projecting revenue goals from various sources, be realistic in where you can begin to grow new sources of funding. This is a great discussion to have with your board and/or development committee to see where they have connections and can help open doors.
Set the Stage for Major Gifts
Major gifts don’t have to be million-dollar contributions to have a significant impact. Every organization, no matter how small, can and should be raising major gifts—whether your threshold is $500, $1,000, $10,000, or even $100,000. Regardless of the amount, it is worth the time and effort to focus on ways to engage with individual donors who have the ability and willingness to make larger gifts to your organization. You already have access to who your major (current and potential) donors are. Use your data to identify the top 50-100 donors who fit these criteria:
- Donors who have been with you the longest.
- Donors who have given the most over their lifetime.
- New donors who have given large (however you define this) first-time gifts.
Then segment these groups for more targeted attention, such as tailored solicitations, 1:1 communications and unique experiences, and dedicated staff and volunteers focused on stewarding these donor relationships.
Your next major gift will likely come from one of these donors who has capacity, has been supporting you for a long time (and not giving at particularly high levels), and may also have been involved as a volunteer. Carving out a little time for more personal interactions with these donors will help you qualify those who can make larger gifts down the road.
Create Greater Donor Engagement
It’s easy to become complacent and think that just because donors have invested in your cause, they will unconditionally support you again. Good donor engagement involves a regular cadence of touchpoints and communications that highlight success stories, program updates, and campaign results. Don’t forget the challenges you face. Donors aren’t fair-weather friends. They’re here to help you make a difference. Share your struggles with them and let them help you. They want to see, feel, and touch the impact of their gifts. Use your email blasts, annual reports, newsletters, webinars, and blog and social media posts to share your stories and enhance your donor relationships.
Lay the Foundation for Tomorrow
A healthy fundraising plan combines a focus on retaining the donors you already have while planting the seeds for the next pipeline of donors to your organization. The best potential new donor names are people who either self-identify or who are already connected to you in some way. Make sure you have a sign-up option on your website and at events so potential donors can receive your communications. Test out a peer-to-peer program. Leverage the networks of your board members and volunteer leaders. Adding even 10 new names a month can yield up to 120 new donors. Cultivate them with a steady communications and engagement strategy to convert those new donors into lifelong donors.
Want more planning insight? Download our popular eGuide, Create a Fundraising Plan That Will Propel Your Nonprofit Forward, for a deeper dive on how to start your year with a strong fundraising plan.