Without this, your nonprofit’s future is at risk

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Can you guess the hottest topic in the fundraising world today?

Unfortunately, it’s the plummeting donor retention rates. Quick – Do you know the answer to these questions for your nonprofit?

  • How many donors renewed or upgraded their gift in 2015?
  • How many donors either lapsed or downgraded their gift?
  • Do you know your donor retention rate?

Tracking these numbers (I’ll show you how in a minute) is a measure of the health of your annual fundraising. Your future!

Concept for procrastination and urgency with torn newspaper headlines excuses reading later, one day, tomorrow, someday, whenever etc

This is the most important data that EVERY nonprofit needs to measure each and every year. If you don’t do this now, there’s no time like the present to get started.

It’s the metric that matters.

Here’s why

Check out the latest statistics released by the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP)

    1. Every 100 donors gained in 2014 was offset by 103 donors lost.
    2. Nonprofit donor retention is 43% – 57% were lost.
    3. First-time donors: 81% didn’t make a 2nd gift. 

It can be deceiving. You may raise the same amount of money or even more, but still have a net loss in giving. Why? You offset the donors you lost with new donors. Expensive and an energy drain.

Calculating donor retention for dummies

Men holding the simple math. Concept 3D illustration.

To calculate your donor retention rate, simply take the number of donors who gave to your organization in one year, and divide it by the number of donors from that same pool who made a donation in year two.

In other words, if 1,000 gave to your organization in 2014, and only 400 of those 1,000 made a donation in 2015, your donor retention rate would be 40%. That means you lost 60%

The secret sauce…

It’s well established that holding on to your current donors is where the easy money is for you, your team, and your organization in 2016.

Little known fact: The cost to find a new donor is 6-7 times that to retain existing donors.

Showing donors that you care about them – and mean it! Sadly, sometimes we don’t show it.

3 Tips to holding on to your donors

1. Drip feed them hard data about your successes and accomplishments. 

A steady flow of reassuring information that reminds your most precious asset (your donors) that the world is a better place because of them. 

Mail box with brown letters

2. Connect with them often, especially the first 90 days. 

Boring newsletters just don’t cut it anymore. Most of us don’t read nonprofit newsletters because they are simply not interesting. There’s volumes written on how to write fabulous donor communications. My favorite is Tom Ahern. He has lots of free resources and samples on his site.

A recent tidbit from Tom: “If your retention rate steadily climbs and stabilizes at a high average, then your donor communications are working. If it falls or never reaches a high average, then your donor communications are NOT working.” 

3.  Develop relationships like you would a personal friendship. 

WHY is “friendly” so very difficult for many nonprofits? It’s all about the words you choose and the tone you take. Use contractions. Say things in a casual way. Be approachable. Don’t be fussy, lofty or formal.


Whether your donors give again is almost entirely up to you and your team. And it will determine the future of your nonprofit. 

A few more easy tactics to consider:

  • Incorporate thank you calls into your daily routine. When someone gets a thank you call from a board member (or anyone) within 48 hours, they are 50+% more likely to give again.
  • Re-do your stale thank you letter. Does it ready like an IRS form or re-purposed from the last year – run, don’t walk and re-write it. There are tons of samples. Google it. Check out Nonprofit Marketing Guide 
  • Send hand-written thank you notes from board and program staff to donors who have given for 5 years or more. Or another targeted group.

Are you intentional about holding on to your donors?


Tricia Dell is a fundraising coach, facilitator, and strategist for nonprofit organizations. Learn more at triciadell.com and follow her on twitter @triciadell.

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