3 Keys to Unlock the Door to Donor Acquisition and Retention

(Today’s blog post is brought to you courtesy of Gretchen Barry, Director of Marketing, NonProfitEasy.)

If you were to study a large group of nonprofits, sized small, medium, and large, to see if they value acquisition or retention more, do you know what your results would be?

Acquisition. There is no doubt.

Nonprofits certainly know the importance of retaining their loyal donors, but it tends to take a back seat to acquisition. It isn’t an either/or approach, but rather, a mostly this and some of that viewpoint. And it shows, because donor attrition is a major challenge facing today’s fundraisers.

However, if you look at some of the most successful and largest nonprofits, you’ll see that they balance acquisition and retention better than anyone. How do they do it?

Well, they employ strategies that attract new prospects and appeal to current donors. They’re not filling recent constituent vacancies in their donor databases, they’re just making room for new entries.

Below, you’ll find three keys to improve and increase both your donor acquisition and retention:

  1. Be Transparent About How You Use Donations
  2. Send Direct Mail 
  3. Ask For Feedback
  4. Offer Donors Other Ways to Support Your Cause

With these three keys, your nonprofit will start to reach its fundraising goals. It’s only onwards and upwards from there.

#1: Be Transparent About How You Use Donations

This key is mostly on the acquisition end of the spectrum, but will reverberate through your retention efforts.

Prospects look for transparency and specificity when it comes to their money, rightfully so. Citing detailed evidence of what funds are going towards will appease any donation candidates that are worried about where they are allocating their hard-earned money.

There are two techniques for greater transparency:

  • Provide a more general, universal description of what donations help with. This won’t be campaign specific but provide an overview instead. Update the description from time to time with new highlights to ensure that it is always as relevant as possible.
  • Set clear guidelines for what campaign specific donations are accomplishing. With those guidelines, when someone is debating about whether to donate, that prospect can have a full picture. For example, one potential donor might decide to donate once he learns that his funds will go towards an annual event that his family has enjoyed for years.

You want to be able to give constituents definitive evidence and proof of action in your promotions.

On the same coin, if you draw a prospect in because of your openness about donation allocations, that prospect-turned-donor is going to want to know that your nonprofit held to its promises. When your nonprofit does so, you are one step closer to retaining that newly acquired donor.

#2: Send Direct Mail

Online donor communications are here to stay, they’re easy and efficient. You want to be looking for ways to improve your email strategies. Those efforts will always benefit donor acquisition and retention.

However, the entrance of a newer fundraising channel shouldn’t bring about the demise of another. Direct mail is worth the small cost of postage.

Direct mail has been around and hugely benefiting nonprofits for a very long time. Yes, people are less interested in direct mail now, thanks to the internet and its many communication outlets, but direct mail still carries a heavy share of the donation weight for nonprofits.

First, direct mail will appeal to older prospects who have come to expect it.

Second, if you’re worried about younger donor reaction, don’t be. Consider this, younger donors, like millennials, have grown up in an era of very little direct mail. Due to the scarcity, your direct mailings will have a chance to stand out.

Direct mail takes more work to distribute than email. Prospects know this and react accordingly. It has become an extra signifier of care.

You also should try sending acknowledgements through direct mail. Donors know when they’re receiving an automated email immediately after a donation. Although that email should certainly go out, it always helps to add an extra acknowledgment on top of that. Donors will appreciate it and be more inclined to remember your nonprofit the next time they think about making a charitable donation.

#3: Ask for Feedback

The best way to retain donors is to provide exemplary stewardship. In order to give that top-notch stewardship, your organization needs to know how it is doing. Donor feedback is a crucial component of reflection and improvement for nonprofits.

Your organization can learn:

  • If donors feel valued
  • How accurate your ask amounts have been
  • What donors think of how you’re asking for donations
  • and much more

Send out surveys to your loyal donors. Offer incentives to those who complete them and then review what your constituents have said.

Maybe you’re looking to gauge reactions to a new and exciting fundraiser you just had. Maybe you’re wanting to find out how your annual fund donors are feeling about their current stewardship. Either way, surveys will help.

In your surveys, ask questions like:

  • Why did you choose to donate?
  • What did you like about the donation process?
  • What would you change about the donation process?
  • How do you select the organizations that you give to?

Through these questions you can learn ways to improve the experience of your retained donors, in addition to finding ways to optimize your next campaign for better acquisition.

Organizations have come to accept that donor turnover is part of the process. Some one-time donors just remain one-time donors. To counteract that, nonprofits push hard for new acquisitions, leaving no stone unturned.

Those acquisitions efforts need to remain in place, but think about what would happen to your revenue if you managed to keep your acquisition rates high, while increasing retention rates.

Retained donors become loyal donors and loyal donors are your best major gift and planned giving prospects.

Loyal donors are also some of your biggest advocates.

Acquisition leads to retention which in turn leads to more acquisition. It is an ongoing tennis rally. It your organization’s job to keep the ball in the court.

#4. Offer Donors Other Ways To Support Your Cause

Giving monetary donations isn’t the only way for donors to support your cause; in fact, there are plenty of ways for your supporters to donate their time and skills to help your organization further its cause.


Let’s look at 3 ways your organization can engage with donors without asking for another donation:

Participating in peer-to-peer fundraising.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is a type of crowdfunding that involves supporters to fundraise on your organization’s behalf. Participants of this type of campaign will set up a fundraising page from pre-made templates that your nonprofit designed, set a fundraising goal, and ask their networks to contribute.

Having a role in the fundraising efforts will make donors more invested in your organization.

Donating their time with volunteer work.

Volunteering is another valuable way for donors to support your cause. Most organizations are constantly looking for generous supporters to donate their time and skills.

Seeing your nonprofit in action and interacting will your staff will help donors develop a stronger connection with your cause.

Attending fundraising events.

Asking donors to attend your next fundraising event is a great way for them to interact with your staff and other passionate supporters.

Whether you’re hosting a marathon or charity auction, having donors participate in events gets them active in your nonprofit community.

Gretchen has been a leader in corporate communications and marketing for 20+ years. She has published numerous articles related to charitable giving and is a passionate advocate for public schools. She has donated her time to numerous causes including Relay for Life, Girls on the Run, Rebuilding Together, and just recently became involved with the local land trust. Gretchen graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in English literature.

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Get in touch with us to take a tour of the Snowball platform and find the right fundraising solutions for your nonprofit.