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Tools for Nonprofits

What is a donor retention plan and why does every nonprofit need one?

August 29, 2023

A donor retention plan is exactly what it sounds like: a plan that your nonprofit organization develops and puts into place to keep your donors happy and engaged. And, well, that’s it.

So, what goes into a donor retention plan?

Before we get into the details, a donor retention plan is used to encourage donors to continue supporting your nonprofit longterm by building strong connections, acknowledging contributions, and reminding donors of all the good their contributions have done. But, behind the scenes, a donor retention plan’s main purpose is to increase donor loyalty, reduce donor attrition rates (Attrition measures the reduction in the number of donors over a specified period of time.), and maximize the long-term value of your donors.

Okay, let’s get to know what goes into a donor retention plan.

What goes into a nonprofit’s donor retention plan:

1. A solid communication strategy.

A communication strategy is used to plan when you will reach out to your donors and what you will say to them. By regularly communicating with donors through email, newsletters, social media updates, and personalized messages will help keep them engaged in your nonprofit’s cause.

2. Personalize your communications.

Your supporters take their contributions personally. Maybe they have a connection to your cause or maybe they have chosen your nonprofit for a particular reason. Whatever the reason, it’s important for you, whenever possible, to tailor communications to individual donors whenever possible by acknowledge their past contributions, expressing gratitude for their ongoing support, and sharing personal stories.

3. Include a few well-timed thank yous.

We can’t say this enough: it is ridiculously important to acknowledge each and every donation with a thank-you note or email. Depending on the size of your nonprofit, you can send a handwritten note or make a personal phone call or offer a special perk (tickets to your next event, dinner with your founders, etc). And, if they’re okay with it, sharing donor stories through well-timed newsletters, annual reports, and events is an excellent way to keep donors connected and engaged.

4. Keep track of everything.

From reports on how donor contributions are being used, to which communications get the most clicks or inspire the most donations, to which fundraising events engage the most donors (existing and new)—it’s important to include measurable outcomes in your donor retention plan.

5. Remember to ask for feedback.

Feedback can be uncomfortable to hear. But, that doesn’t make it any less important to seek out. Some donors will give it freely, others will give it happily if asked, and some may not give feedback at all. Either way, it is worth asking.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, you can include a comments section on your site, ask for feedback in the footer of your newsletters and emails, call up current or lapsed donors and ask. Most people will be happy to share their thoughts, experiences, and preferences.

We know you’re probably cringing right now. Most feedback isn’t all that helpful—it can be empty, unconstructive, too personal, etc. But, asking and actively listening doesn’t mean implementing. (Although your nonprofit may actually end up implementing some of the ideas.) Most donors just want to be heard so engage them in conversations about the organization's goals, challenges, and future plans.

6. A strong donor retention plan divides donors into segments.

Dividing donors into segments based on their giving history, interests, and engagement level will help you tailor your communications and engagement strategies to match each donor segment's giving characteristics and communication preferences.

7. Include regular check-ins.

By continuously monitoring your donor retention rates and analyzing the factors that contribute to donors engaging, lapsing or re-engaging, you’ll be able to refine your donor retention strategies.

8. Make a plan to re-engage with your nonprofit’s lapsed donors.

Develop and include plans to re-engage lapsed donors who have stopped giving. (This one is short because we wrote a whole article on it.)

9. Make sure everything you do focuses on long-term relationship building.

Every piece of communication should focus on building a genuine, long-term relationship with your donors. Yes, you can include call-to-actions asking them to contribute, but try not to make fundraising the main message of every piece of communication your donors get.

10. Measure and evaluate everything.

Set benchmarks and goals for donor retention rates and track their progress over time. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your retention strategies and make adjustments as needed. Nothing is set in stone—especially these days. Social media changes daily, some stories might work better than others, new donors might open up new donor segments, etc. What’s important is to stay flexible and be willing to try new things.

More resources to help you re-engage lapsed donors:

Does connecting with current donors require fewer resources than signing up new ones? Yes. Yes it does.

How to re-engage your nonprofit’s lapsed donors: Tips and a sample letter to re-engage lapsed donors.

Templates and writing tips to re-engage lapsed donors.

5 free ways for your nonprofit to improve donor relations.

A nonprofit’s guide to writing a thank you letter.