The Donor Retention Challenge

Here is the problem. Donor retention is a big issue for many non-profits.

In fact, according to the 2017 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey, from 2015 to 2016 the average retention rate was only 45%.

Understanding the retention rates of your donors is crucial. Take a look at how your rates compare to previous years. Looking exclusively at overall campaign performance and new gift acquisitions may not paint an accurate picture. Understanding the gains and losses from both a dollar and donor perspective will help you allocate your resources to improve fundraising effectiveness and stability.

“It usually costs less to retain and motivate an existing donor than to attract a new one. For most organizations…taking positive steps to reduce gift and donor losses is the least expensive strategy for increasing net fundraising gains.” – 2014 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report (1)

But, there is a solution.  

So, how do you keep them coming back? The first step is understanding what motivates these donors. And second, effectively communicating with them in a way that they appreciate.

Here is a valuable, guiding insight that was found in Blackbaud’s Donor Perspectives: An Investigation into What Drives Your Donors To Give (2):

“When taken together, the results indicate that while personal finances greatly contribute to donor decisions about regular donations, charities can do more to keep these important donations. By tracking the impact of contributions and communicating that impact back to donors, nonprofits can increase the number of regular donors and ensure they are not losing the regular donors they have”.


Here is how we can implement this solution.

There’s a lot of competition out there for donor dollars and it’s growing. You need to ensure donors understand the impact their dollars are having. That’s what motivates them, that’s why they give. Those stories need to be told. Share the story of the patient who made a major recovery because of donor-funded research advancement. Or, the student who graduated and went on to make a world-changing breakthrough thanks to the scholarship they received through your foundation. These stories resonate with donors. They connect on an emotional level – and it’s this connection that will keep them coming back year after year.

While this likely goes without saying, do not forget the importance of thanking these donors for their generosity. Appreciating them and recognizing them for the gifts they bring to your facility is paramount. Donors want this; it’s a motivating feeling for them. And, it is important that their acknowledgment is reflective of the size of their donation.

Like any stakeholder in your organization, donors want to be heard. Enabling them to provide input reinforces their vested interest in your organization. Be it a personal conversation, an email, online surveys – all of these are opportunities to listen to your donors and keep them feeling connected. Simply letting them know their opinion is valued, and even acting on their suggestions, can have a big impact on their loyalty to your cause.

While it won’t be possible to retain every donor, you can definitely improve your current retention rate by taking the time to effectively communicate. Listen, learn and build a lasting relationship with your donors that will withstand the test of time.


1 2014 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, AFP and The Urban Institute, p. 4 –
2.  Donor Perspectives: An investigation into what drives your donors to give,; Blackbaud, Nov. 2012, p. 7 –
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