Donor retention is essential to the financial health of any nonprofit organization. According to the annual report by the Non Profit Source,  first-time donor retention rates for 2018 were only twenty five percent. The good news is that sixty percent of repeat donors continued donating. What can be done to retain the other seventy five percent of first time donors? How can one-time donors be convinced to become repeat donors? What tools does a nonprofit need to succeed in cultivating recurring gifts?

According to a report by Bloomerang, some of the reasons donors leave include believing the organization doesn’t need them, lack of information about how their money is used, the organization has poor communication and donors are not thanked for donating. These pitfalls are entirely preventable through donor relationship management. I  have gathered the best tips and strategies from fundraising experts about how to build and maintain donor relationships.



Not all donors are created equal. While they are all important to your organization, some have shown to be more valuable than others even if they donate the same amount. Higher engagement rates reveal which donors are more in touch with the core mission of your nonprofit.

Many nonprofits focus only on the donation amounts from their donors. This is a mistake. Be sure your nonprofit also looks at the other factors of engagement in order to build relationships.

Look at engagement factors such as event attendance, volunteerism, email click-through rates, tweets to your organization, website visits, and recency of giving. From this information, you may see signals of donors becoming disenchanted with your organization (a sign to reach out) or have a better idea of who to turn to for opportunities like major giving.

When you’re investing in new tech for your organization, choose fundraising software that takes these factors into consideration. This will help you pay better attention to donors’ cries for attention as well as signals of potential lifelong relationships. Don’t miss out on engagement opportunities for interaction by ignoring these important factors.

–  Jay Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomerang




Our experience with brands and organizations is becoming increasingly personalized. Netflix makes recommendations based on our previous watch history and sites like Amazon know what we want to buy before we know. People have come to expect this level of personalization in all areas of life, and your donors are no different. Stewarding with personalization adds a layer of authenticity and empathy to your strategy.

The first step is understanding why someone made a contribution. Did they see your online ad campaign centered around STEM education? Did they attend your community outreach event to raise money for a new playground? Every donor has a reason why they donate to a certain cause. Understand what motivated them to contribute to yours.

If you know why a donor gave, it’s much easier to personalize their communication. It could be as simple as reaching out with a short email saying, “Thank you for helping us the last time we hosted a food drive at the community center, Sue! We’d love to invite you to participate again.” Personalized invitations focus on what your donors are passionate about and inevitably lead to high donor satisfaction and larger contributions.

– Steph Adriaenssens, Enterprise Account Executive, Apricot 360




Donors expect to hear back from you, promptly, when they give.  It’s an unwritten contract. When they fulfill their end of the bargain, and you don’t fulfill yours, you’ve broken their trust. But if you do follow through, trust kicks in and kick starts your relationship with your donor. This can begin with the very first thank you landing page, email, letter and/or phone call they receive from you. It continues when you tell them when they can expect to hear from you next, and then you follow through. It’s useful to set up opportunities to build trust.

TO-DO:  Force yourself to follow through by promising that you’ll do so! (e.g., “When you make a gift, you will instantly receive a profile of one of the families whose lives are being transformed by this program.”). Then… follow through!

TO-DO:  In your thank you letter, note that someone will be calling them within the next two weeks to see if there are other ways they’d like to become involved. Or maybe just let them know you’ll be emailing a roster of volunteer opportunities or upcoming events. Then… follow through!

-Claire Axelrad, Fundraising Coach, Principal at Clairification




The big mistake these organizations are making is that they are using their fundraising letters to make donors feel bad, hoping that those negative feelings will translate into revenue.  The goal here is that the letter will make donors feel bad and guilty, and that the donors will then send in checks to assuage that guilt. Does that sound like the recipe for strong, lifelong donor relationships?  It’s not. When reading your donor communications (including your fundraising letters and e-mails, your newsletters, your website, viewing your videos, etc.) your donors should feel inspired. They should feel like your organization is making a huge positive impact in the world (or in your local community) and that they can be an important part of that change . . . It’s ok to make your donors cry.  But never tell your donors that they are part of the problem. Instead, cast a vision for them where they can be the hero of the story. Show them how they can make a huge difference by donating to your cause.

Joe Garecht, President, Garecht Fundraising Consultants



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