Donor retention is tricky business. 

The numbers of how many donors stop giving after one year are not pretty.

Neither is the data about how much it costs most organizations to capture new donors.

Not to mention the more astounding finding that, on average, organizations are losing more donors every year than they can keep or find. 

I’m sure you’ve felt these challenges firsthand. 

This is exactly why figuring out what works in retention is so important.

"If we can keep your donors longer, the benefits can be exponential." 


The purpose of this toolkit is to give you practical strategies for designing an overall donor experience that more successfully retains donors. There is no silver bullet, but by using complementary strategies you can succeed. 

The best part? These strategies require almost no resources.

You just have to be willing to deeply understand your donors and be strategic about how you engage with them at key moments. 

Applied together, these strategies will give you a great system for keeping more of your donors for longer.


We all know that you only get one chance to make a first impression, right?

In fundraising, just like in life, this couldn’t be more true. And the rewards of providing an ideal initial experience are huge. 

There is a large amount of data that shows that the initial experience a person has — whether it is with a person, a product, or an organization — is highly predictive of what their future interactions will look like. 

In order to capture your new supporters in a way that carries long-term fundraising benefits, be sure to design an initial experience that differentiates your organization, builds the relationship, and creates a memorable moment. 

One of the best ways to do this is to ask your donors why they are drawn to your work.

Once you identify the most attractive aspects for people, then you want to design those into the initial experience a person has with your organization. 

Here are a few examples:

  • If you are working on policy and supporters consistently mention how impressed they are impressed by your research, be sure to share your most read white papers as soon as possible. 
  • If you do environmental work and donors are most excited by seeing how your work has renewed certain properties, highlight this for new supporters in the most compelling, visual way you can. 
  • If you are a university and alumni are thrilled to hear about how your students are developing new solutions to major problems, highlight their efforts and create opportunities for them to connect. 

The idea is that each organization has a moment where something really clicks in donors’ minds, and where the connection and commitment to support is solidified. Identify what that is for your organization and make sure people experience it as soon as possible. 

"Retention begins immediately." 


And providing a great initial experience is one of the most surefire ways of being successful.


Ongoing communication is closely related to the marketing concept of staying in front of your audience.

Companies don’t expect that every time you see one of their ads you are going to buy their product. But they do have decades of research into the fact that, for the most part, the more you see their name the more likely you are to buy. 

"Ongoing communications is the most used donor retention strategy." 


And for good reason, right? Continuing to provide value to your supporters is an excellent way of keeping them invested in your work.

The thing too many organizations miss here is that relying solely on regular communications is usually only effective for retaining a portion of your donors.

To use it as effectively as possible, pair regular communication with the other retention strategies. 

SIDENOTE: An interesting example of where more visibility isn’t necessarily better was highlighted in Robert Cialdini’s book Presuasion. If viewers saw a certain product too many times on the show Seinfeld, it actually lowered their likelihood of buying that product because they felt that they were being pushed a product. In fact, if they saw the product 3 times, they were actually less likely to buy than someone who saw the product zero times! But generally speaking, the idea of staying in front of your audience holds :)


Relationships are built on mutual understanding.

We have to know one another to really feel connected. 

Transparency, from a fundraising perspective, means opening up to donors, staff, and funders in a way that lets them in more than other organizations typically do. 

Show your supporters how much work it takes to make an impact.

Talk about how diligently you’ve thought through your approach.

Make connections that only you can.

Nobody spends as much time in your space, tackling your issues, as you do. Your donors want to hear — not just that you’re doing great work — but that you possess a level of insight that is incredibly rare, valuable, and worth supporting. 

Remember This:

"You are sitting on a goldmine of insights that probably 99.9% of people have no idea about."


Being transparent about even some of it will allow you to reap all sorts of benefits for your fundraising, with better donor retention being at the top of the list.


Moving a person from prospect to donor is at the core of fundraising. 

And the quicker and more successfully you do this, the stronger your results will be.

One of the initial steps in doing this — which every fundraiser and community builder faces — is to get a sufficient percentage of people to move from being passive to being active

The two most common ways we think of supporters participating is through giving and volunteering. These are both excellent, and typically occur after a person has been engaged with you for some time first. 

"How can you increase a person’s engagement from their very first interaction?"


One of the best ways is to simply ask why your supporter connected with you. This creates a comfortable opportunity to build a relationship and subtly get people to actively engage with you. 

Another way to increase new supporter engagement is to encourage them to refer others to your organization.

When attempting this, remember to consider the role of incentives in guiding behavior. In other words, to successfully encourage referrals it is incredibly useful create some type of exclusive content that a supporter unlocks by referring others. 

A good rule of thumb is that the size of the incentive (in terms of its benefit to them) greatly exceeds the size of the ask (like emailing a pre-written note to one friend) then you are likely to see new supporters be actively engaged with your referral program. 

Regardless of which method(s) you use to increase engagement, always remember the strong underlying link between active engagement with your organization and long-term retention as donors. 

If you can get them to engage, you can get them to stay.


One of the big differentiators between organizations that do and don’t have successful raises is that they approach the timing of their asks in totally different ways. 

Many times, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, organizations drop an ask into our laps out of nowhere. All of a sudden an organization that communicated to you in the year since you gave a gift sends an envelope asking for money. (Why does this keep happening?)

"The best fundraisers do something different." 


They look at the ask as a series of steps. It is a sequence rather than a single moment. They lead up to the actual ask by hinting at the future and building urgency. They create intrigue, provide value, and prompt you in advance. 

This process in known as priming

It basically means to get someone ready for some type of action. In your case, that’s getting a person ready to give a gift. Priming entails timing your ask strategically and building it into a sequence of meaningful interactions with your supporters. 

Why does priming matter?

Because it works. 


We’re wired to respond better to asks when we’ve been primed by positive interactions beforehand. And for you, the extra effort to send a little communication that primes your people is minimal.

By putting your organization in the donor’s mind before you need them, you increase their likelihood of giving. Not just the one time, but as a retained donor year-after-year.



While we talked about the importance of giving your new supporters an ideal initial experience with you once they sign up, there is one other moment you have to diligently design an excellent experience for your supporters: right after they give. 

What do your donors currently receive once they donate to you? 


Is it inspiring? Memorable? Useful?

The giving experience does not end once the transaction is completed. You want to plan past the gift to create a moment that cements a positive connection between you and them. 

There are many ways to do this.

You can send them a short, inspiring video about the work that you do tailored specifically to them as a donor.

Or you could have a number of prominent donors record quick little thank you’s.

Or have a small team dedicate part of their time to make quick phone calls to each day’s donors during the main part of a campaign. 

Donor retention does not require constantly providing special things to your donors.

Donor retention is the result of extra effort at precise moments.


And there could be no better time to design a little extra into an experience than right after they give to you. 


Guess what? 

Retention is tough work but it is totally doable. 

There is no need to keep thinking about it as a mysterious — and seemingly impossibly complex — endeavor. By being smart about how and when we design in experiences for the explicit purpose of improving retention, we give our organizations the best shot at reaping the very real rewards of increased donor retention. 

Because every time you find new donors, you’ll know they are entering a fundraising system designed for their long-term support. And that’s when the economic benefits compound and your fundraising growth really occurs. 

Feel free to reach out if you have questions: kyle@fundraisinggenius.co