Four steps to stronger donor retention

Last week I blogged about the Stop Acquiring New Donors Meme, the most bone-headed fundraising meme of our time. The meme, arising from the general drop in donor retention rates, says you should stop acquiring new donors until you fix your retention. Which is like saying you should stop breathing until you end air pollution.

But retention is a real issue, and you really need to improve it.

Here are four common fundraising practices that hurt donor retention. If you are doing any of these things, change it now. You can improve your retention.


  1. Bait-and-switch fundraising. Many organizations have finely honed donor acquisition messages, tested and refined to a high level of effectiveness. But their donor cultivation messages are completely different — usually less specific, less urgent, more complex. That is a recipe for donor attrition. Bring your donor cultivation messaging in line with acquisition messaging, and your retention will improve.
  2. Website and direct mail are out of sync. Many direct-mail donors interact with you online, either to get information or to give. Many organizations have websites that look completely different from their direct mail, and have unrelated messaging and offers. Donors show up at the website with the direct mail experience in their minds, and may think they’ve accidently gone to a different organization’s site. That makes it harder for donors to stay with you.
  3. Gifts are not acknowledged promptly and/or relevantly. Do your donors get receipts quickly after they give, or do weeks go by? And is the receipt about the same topic, using the same language and level of emotion that the ask did? If it isn’t, you have a wide open door that donors walk right out of and never come back.
  4. You aren’t reporting back to donors. Your donors should know that their giving makes a difference, that it accomplishes what you claimed it would when you asked. If you don’t complete the circle by reporting back on their impact, donors have every right to leave you.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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