4 Steps to Improve Donor Retention


Prepping for 2023 (1)


This month we're discussing a few core approaches that we can use to prepare for next year.

How To Maintain Your Existing Donors

Fundraising experts generally benchmark donor retention and upgrade targets at 50% and 20% respectively. If your donor retention rate is low (below 40%), a year-end clean-up of your donor database may be the quickest and easiest way to help you achieve better fundraising results in 2023.

Even donors who feel passionate about your cause and the great work you do will stop donating if they don’t feel connected to your organization. That automatic email acknowledgment, snail mail thank-you letter, and year-end holiday card or monthly newsletter may not cut it. There are better ways to grow and deepen these relationships.

Related Post: 3 Keys to Stronger Donor Relationships

However, the first step should include a good purging of your donor records to create a manageable list that can be intelligently segmented, and thoughtfully cultivated.

Step 1: The Old 90-10 Rule

You know the old adage: “90% of your donations come from 10% of your donors.” Some of you (like me) remember when it was called the 80-20 rule. But the fact remains that for most nonprofits, a relatively small number of donors make up the majority of all fundraising dollars.

With that being the case, begin your data clean-up by finding and marking the top 10-15% of your donors who over the past 2 years, provided 85-90% of your funding. Once the list is established, assign each to the volunteer or staff best suited to engage the donor in the most meaningful and appropriate way.

Step 2: Focus on the 90%

Once you’ve segmented out your top donors, it’s time to focus on the other 90% who over the past 2 years have contributed roughly 10% of your funding. These people definitely like your organization and the great work you do. But the goal is to get them to like you more and hopefully, LOVE YOU! Communicate with this group regularly in an automated, but personal manner. This will take some creativity and most likely, some further segmenting of the list to create targeted and meaningful messages. If you have a good fundraising system with built-in email and direct mail processes, this step will be much more manageable.

Step 3: Gone but Not Forgotten

Find and mark those in your donor records who have provided zero funding over the last 3 years or more, AND who fall into one more of these categories:
  • Former board member
  • Former above-average donor
  • Anyone who gave 3 or more gifts at any time
  • Above average volunteers
  • Former event sponsors
  • Alumni/Parents of Alumni/Grandparent of Alumni (for schools)

Survey them 2-3 times to try and gain a response, asking them if they would like to continue receiving communication from you. Depending on the size of your organization this step may take some further segmenting to personalize the survey enough to get a response. If you hear back that they still want to be connected at some level, develop a strategy to re-engage them. For those who respond that they would like to be taken off your list, mark them as "Gone but Not Forgotten". At some point in the past, this group was part of your inner circle so don’t give up on them. Set them aside and examine them individually to see if a different strategy might be used to reconnect.

Related Post: Connecting in Uncertain Times

Step 4: Purge

Lastly, survey any past donors who did not fall into one of the categories outlined above, asking if they would like to continue receiving communication from your organization (again 2-3 times). For those who reply “no” or do not respond, move them to a segmented data set that should not be included in your communications and overall totals when calculating donor retention percentages. Depending on the number of records which fall into this group, a good forensic analysis may uncover clues as to why they lost interest.

Cleaning up your data gives you a clearer sense of who your donors are and how they relate to your organization. Plus, it is a way to use your limited resources in the most effective way possible.

What strategies have you used to keep your donor lists updated? Let us know in the comments below!
Need more clarity? Request a free one hour consultation to work through your needs and determine your next steps.

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Posted by Mary Ramirez
Mary Ramirez

Written by Mary Ramirez

As a seasoned fundraising professional, Mary Ramirez has a deep understanding of the qualities and characteristics of effective non-profits. She excels at helping clients design solutions that address challenges and capitalize on opportunities for long-term success. Mary balances strategic thinking with attention to detail.

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