Donor Relations: The Key to Lifetime Giving

The goal of donor relations is to retain current donors and keep them engaged over time, thus increasing the donors lifetime value across the giving of their time, talents, community, and donations.

The cost of new donor acquisition is nearly 4x higher than retaining a current donor. Nonprofits that utilize responsive fundraising are able to increase donor retention by 12% by creating personalized donor journeys that help to build trust and loyalty through personalized engagement. 

Effective donor relations activities start by understanding what defines donor relations. The Donor Relations Guru Group (DRG Group) defines donor relations as four main functions, or pillars, of the philosophical basis for donor relations:

  • Pillar 1: Stewardship 
  • Pillar 2: Acknowledgement
  • Pillar 3: Recognition
  • Pillar 4: Engagement

Let’s dive in! 

What Donors Need: Stewardship and Acknowledgement 

“The most important thing we can do to take care of and begin the relationship with our donor is to say, ‘thank you’. And to do it in a personal, meaningful, timely way.”

Angie Joens, Strategist and Consultant at DRG Group.

Joens continues, The second thing donors really, really need is they need to know that not only did you get the gift, but that you’re using it as the donor intended.”

All donor relations begin with informing the donor about the use and investment of their gift. This is at the heart of stewardship. The second pillar, acknowledgment, is the confirmation between the organization and the donor that the gift has been received—whether that is through receipts, gift agreements, an appreciation process, and a thank you phone call. 

What Donors Want: Recognition and Engagement 

Angie at DRG Group shares that “the second two pillars are what donors want. This is the artful way we manage relationships with donors. This is where we start to build and develop a further relationship.”

Donors want to be recognized for what they give and how they give. This is the fastest-changing arena within donor relations. Depending on the donor, they may want public or private recognition. Historically, recognition came in the form of plaques, giving clubs and societies, and press releases. Still, in the modern age, nonprofits are getting much more creative in how they recognize donors online and offline. 

The final pillar is engagement. The essential question is: how do we keep donors engaged over time? “That’s what they are wanting. They want information from our organizations. They want access and experiences – and we have all these within our nonprofits.” 

How do we apply the four pillars of donor engagement to our relationship-building efforts all year long? 

Three Donor Relations Strategies To Grow Lifetime Giving 

Tip 1: Map A Donor Journey 

The donor journey is each person’s path to evolve from a stranger to a recurring donor to your organization. It’s a complex web of personalized engagements and responses that are repeatable and scalable.

Even though it’s a complex process, it’s not complicated to create or implement at your nonprofit. You simply need a map.

By mapping out your donor’s journey, you can identify a pathway to close the gap between the donor and your mission. What will be the next steps, the communications they’ll receive, and the future calls to action to bring them closer to your mission?

To get started:

  • Create segments in your donor file 
  • Determine the communication channels to utilize 
  • Deploy calls to action over time from volunteering to a future gift ask

Tip 2: Take A Multi-Channel Approach To Retain Donors 

Did you know that donors who receive communications across multiple channels give 300% more than those who receive communications through a single channel? 

The modern-day donor has communication preferences from email to social media to text and phone calls. Understanding the channels your donors want to engage with you on will help you personalize the donor experience and ultimately build trust and loyalty over time to increase mission impact. 

Tip 3: Use donor signals and data to  personalize connection 

With the help of modern tools and technology, we can utilize donor signals and other data points to better understand a donor’s behavior and their passion points with our nonprofit organization. 

As Angie Coens shared, “the more data you have, the better you can drive what the donor is wanting and needing”. 

Begin listening to donors today by: 

  • Surveying your donors to learn more about their giving interests 
  • Analyze web traffic – where do donors spend their time?
  • Look at email subject lines and open rates to understand what messages resonate most deeply with your donors
  • Calculate  your donor retention rate and what donor experiences influence it 
  • Talk to donors who return and upgrade their gift 

Build deeper donor relationships by listening to your donors, synthesizing relevant data, and taking these actionable insights to help retain donors and extend engagement.

Wath the full conversation with Angie Joens at DRG Group:


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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