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How to Retain Donors: 6 Powerful Tactics

Are you discussing how to retain donors with your team? Let’s talk about it.

For nonprofit organizations, any conversations around getting a higher average donor retention rate might hit a sore spot. You’ve heard more than one gloomy statistic, like the fact that the number of donors and gifts decreased, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

Donor retention trends from 2023 to help inform how to retain donors in the current climate

Figuring out how to retain donors can be challenging for a lot of nonprofits, but it’s a crucial element to donor lifetime value. Looking at the data, it’s easy to get frustrated and jump to the conclusion that donors have become less generous. While donors may have changed, their generosity and their commitment to the causes they care about remain constant.

What Has Changed?

What has changed is donor expectations and the number of different devices clamoring for the attention of both potential donors and your current donors. Technological advances have trained donors to expect personalized experiences and, at the same time, fractured their attention. They are constantly connected, endlessly marketed to, and on the receiving end of experiences that are tailored to their preferences. They want authenticity and to be part of the impact your organization is creating.

But too often, donors give, and then… that’s it. They get a boilerplate thank-you letter and perhaps are subscribed to an email list. They never hear about the impact their gift made, they don’t find out what happened next in the story that inspired them to give and the messages they do receive aren’t relevant to them. No wonder they fall away.

When you know what donors expect and want, you’re no longer powerless against attrition and drop-off. Communication and personalization can help you build lasting relationships with your donors. It’s time to go beyond a monthly email newsletter and start creating the connections that inspire donors to stay with you.

How to Retain Donors: A Guiding Principle 

Your donor retention strategies can be plain or fancy, done in-house, or with an award-winning agency, but none of it matters if you don’t follow one central guideline: keep in consistent communication with your donor base.

When someone takes an action, there is a short period of time where you have the opportunity to build a relationship with that individual donor. When you respond, it strengthens that bond with that current donor and converts them into a loyal donor. Without a response, the donor disengages. They may write you off, but it’s even more likely they’ll forget about the interaction altogether.

We talk a lot about responsive fundraising, and this level of responsiveness is basically a prerequisite: when your donors take an action with your nonprofit, respond.

responsive fundraising framework that can help you learn how to retain donors

In action, figuring out how to retain donors doesn’t have to be involved or complicated, it can be as simple as:

  • Answering every comment on social media posts
  • Instituting a donor welcome email series
  • Deciding to return every donor call or email within one business day, even if it’s just to say, “I don’t have that information, but I’ll find out.”
  • Planning program updates into your campaign schedule


If your donors know that you’re paying attention to them, they will feel valued. When they reach out to you and you respond, it reinforces their trust. Showing them what their gifts accomplish boosts their confidence in your cause. As a result, their trust and donor loyalty increase. Even better—they’ll start to feel like part of a community. This is the foundation for building long-term relationships.

How to Retain Donors? Delight Donors With These 6 Tactics

When we talk about donor engagement strategies, our thoughts often go straight to our nonprofit email marketing tool and stop there. Email is useful, but it’s not the only tool you have. Consider adding these donor-approved communication techniques to your donor retention efforts to strengthen relationships with donors, boost your average donation amount, and turn one-time gifts into strong relationships. Ultimately, all of this helps improve your donor retention rates! 

1. Video Updates

If the rise of social media has taught us one thing, it’s this: people love videos. Videos are engaging, spark emotion, and can even increase your email open rates. Giving your donors more of what they are looking for keeps them coming back for more and prevents any big jumps in lapsed donors.

Videos are an effective way to show your donors the impact of their generosity. With a video, you can take your nonprofit storytelling to the next level by sharing personal stories of people supporters have helped, the projects they’ve supported, and the changes they’ve helped make. It would be impossible to take all of your donors to observe a day in your food pantry, but with video, you can give every donor a tour.

You don’t need to go to film school to produce an engaging video update. Even a video you take on your phone of one person saying thank you will resonate with all of your donor segments—one-time donors, monthly donors, mid-level donors, and even major gift donors. Figuring out how to retain donors doesn’t require spending thousands of dollars—it just requires sincerity. 

2. Handwritten Letters

Online, everyone and everything wants your donor’s attention, but in their postal mailbox, the competition is significantly less. A handwritten letter is a viable tool that can really stand out amidst the bills and junk mail and make your donor’s day. 

Handwriting cards and letters is time-consuming, but you can do a surprising amount if you stay consistent. If you wrote two notes a day, you’d send 10 every week, and more than 500 a year.

You don’t have to write every note, though. Writing to donors is an excellent volunteer opportunity. Board members, program volunteers, and sometimes clients (as appropriate) are all candidates for the letter-writing brigade. You can even host a small event to write thank-you cards or holiday messages.

Sometimes figuring out how to retain donors while managing the workload of your staff around fundraising efforts is a huge challenge. One additional option to consider is using a responsive fundraising tool that helps you automate things like letters and postcards. They may not be quite as personal as a handwritten note, but a well-designed, intentional postcard can still make an impact. 

3. Immersive Website Experiences

Your nonprofit website can be more than a collection of information, it can host experiences for your supporters to help them connect with your cause and organization. You want to know how to retain donors? Bring them in closer to your mission. 

For some great examples, look to nonprofits with an educational component to their missions. The San Diego Zoo’s live cams let supporters take a sneak peek into the lives of the animals they cherish from anywhere in the world. The Riga Ghetto and Latvian Holocaust Museum uses an interactive online giving experience to introduce visitors to the biographies of individuals affected by the Holocaust, creating powerful emotional journeys. Art museums that put their collections online broaden the reach of people who can experience what they have to offer.

You can use immersive web experiences to strengthen relationships with first-time donors by suggesting they check out the link on the website as an action item or creating donor-only experiences to show their gifts in action.

4. Pick Up the Phone

The phone is a powerful tool to include in your donor retention strategy because it immediately gives donors a one-on-one personal experience. It’s a good addition to your welcome process for new donors and a nice way to check in with your established donors.

Just like those handwritten letters, you can make a lot of donor calls if you commit to doing a few every day. Use these calls to say thank you, ask for feedback, conduct a donor survey, or follow up on the information they’ve given you. For instance, if you’ve sent a donor survey and they responded with comments—give them a call to thank them and talk more.

Of course, you don’t have to do it all alone. Trusted staff and volunteers within your organization can also pick up the phone, especially for thank-you calls. Since these are your beloved donors, take a little time to train callers, and provide them with talking points and/or a script. (Pro Tip: This is a good way to gently introduce your board to one-on-one donor interactions.)

5. Facebook Live Events

Live video on social media platforms combines the excitement of a live event with the convenience of staying home. Your supporters can tune in from anywhere, but since there’s a time limit, it has more built-in urgency than watching a video.

Live social media events can include quick program updates from the field, interviews, panel discussions, presentations, or behind-the-scenes tours. Donors have the opportunity to ask questions in the chat and respond in real time, which makes the interaction personal.

Facebook Live is less formal than a produced video or immersive web experience. Consequently, you can be more nimble and use it to build stronger donor relationships. For example, you could invite donors to your holiday giving program to tune into Facebook Live to see the piles of gifts they provided children, watch the gift wrapping in action and ask the program director questions.

6. Personalized SMS Texts

If you have a message you desperately want your donors to read… text it. Stats on SMS open rates vary, but they’re estimated at around 95% to 99%.

This is about more than text-to-give. With the help of marketing automation, you can keep your organization top of mind and build connections via SMS. You can send thank-you texts after donations, confirmation, and reminders for event registration and announce fundraising goal achievements after a campaign. It’s a great way to keep first-time donors and long-term supporters in the the loop.

For example, imagine it’s GivingTuesday. Before you go to work that morning, you donate to your favorite nonprofit’s campaign. You immediately get a text to say thanks, perhaps with a video link about the program you funded. You might get a progress update that afternoon, with an invitation to share the campaign. Then, the next morning, you get a text saying how much the nonprofit raised. You’re up to date, and you didn’t even have to look for that information.

If that communication stream had been conducted only by email, you might not have even seen it, depending on how your day went. But via text, you almost definitely received all of the information. You are more engaged and aren’t left wondering how things went, because the nonprofit communicated with you.

How to Retain Donors? Effective Communication

When you use all available tools to communicate and connect with your donors, you’ll encourage them to keep giving and stay engaged with your organization. Even better, the connections you make with donors will be authentic and valuable to them, and they’ll know you’re listening and responding to them as individuals. That’s what makes donors stick around.

Figuring out how to retain donors isn’t going to be the same for every organization, but without a responsive nonprofit CRM and marketing automation, it’s guaranteed to be a challenge. To learn more about how you can streamline your processes, connect with every contact in your donor database, and build strong, lasting donor relationships, schedule a demo with Virtuous.

What you should do now

Below are three ways we can help you begin your journey to building more personalized fundraising with responsive technology.

See the Virtuous platform in action.  Schedule a call with our team for personalized answers and expert advice on transforming your nonprofit with donor management software.

Download our free Responsive Maturity Model and learn the 5 steps to more personalized donor experiences.

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