Increasing Donor Retention

Posted on by Christine DeLooze | No Comments »

Donor retention is a critical issue for non-profits and higher education institutions. Pamela Barden, a consultant in the non-profit sector, recently wrote in FundRaising Success:

It’s hard to pick up a publication, read an e-news or go to a conference without being confronted by the ugly fact: Donor retention is at a crisis level. Perhaps three in four first-time donors never give again; this is a massive group of “one and done” donors, and a significant loss to nonprofit organizations. Overall attrition is often in the 50 percent to 70 percent range, and acquiring donors seems to get more expensive every day.*

Pamela goes on to talk about a simple, yet extremely important step, that many organizations are neglecting – saying thank you. And then when an organization does send a receipt for a donation, the focus of their message is quite often misplaced. When the cost of acquiring a new donor can be so expensive, it’s amazing that organizations are missing this opportunity to connect with their supporters and express appreciation.

Service providers can offer a solution to their non-profit and higher education customers that addresses this challenge.

Non-profit marketers need to personally connect with their constituents to make them feel valued. In her article, Pamela shared that several receipts that she received in response to her donations focused more on the organization rather than thanking her and making her feel personally important. Here are the opening sentences of the receipts that she received (and Pamela’s thoughts about them).

  • “We want to say thank you for the tremendous help we’ve received from our donors.” (What about me?!!!)
  • “We are excited that (name of organization) is now officially a part of the (parent organization) family!  The ‘new’ (parent organization) includes …” (What about me?!!!)
  • “After a very cold, snowy winter, I am looking forward to the arrival of spring more than ever this year.  It was very exciting to recently celebrate the dedication of the (building name).” (What about me?!!!)

Service providers who can offer personal and relevant communication solutions are well-placed to help non-profit marketers solve this problem.

In PODi’s case study database there are some excellent examples of this.

Seattle Humane Society Strengthens Relationships with Donors


The Development Office of the Seattle Humane Society (SHS) made personal phone calls to large donors to learn more about them and thank them for their gift, but this was not feasible for smaller donors. Their service provider, AlphaGraphics Seattle, developed a direct mail campaign that thanked donors and improved connections with them. The opening sentence of their letter was much more personal than the examples Pamela Barden provided and reminded the donor about their impact.

“Thank you for your last donation of $XXX on {date}. The Seattle Humane Society relies on the financial support of compassionate donors like you to save the lives of orphaned and abandoned pets.”

Building relationships was the primary goal of this campaign, but the Seattle Humane Society was pleasantly surprised when they encouraged additional donations that exceeded the initial cost of the program.


RosemontCollegeLetterRosemont College Increases Giving by 25%

Like other colleges Rosemont College wanted to continue to increase Annual Fund participation and total dollars raised for their latest fiscal year. To achieve their goal of increasing donations to the Annual Fund, Rosemont College had to convert non-donors into donors, and increase the gift size from past donors. Their service provider, Pacesetter Enterprises, created a yearlong campaign with five phases that utilized four variable direct mail pieces and a total of 12 variable emails with Personalized URLs throughout the duration of the campaign. Communications were highly relevant to the recipient with copy and images varying based upon the recipient’s:

  • Graduation year
  • Donor status
  • Past gift amount
  • College relation

Communications with previous donors always appropriately acknowledged the individual’s previous gift. An example from one of the letters, “I am so grateful for your past gift to Rosemont College. With your gift of $XXX in {year}, we have made great progress towards achieving the goals in our Strategic Plan.”

Almost 88% of Rosemont’s donors either increased their gift size from the previous year, or maintained their last gift.

Kim Gross, Director of Sales & Marketing for Pacesetter Enterprises, has built a strong relationship with Rosemont College and other higher education institutions. She has shared her talk tracks for getting appointments, handling objections and closing deals in this market.

  • PODi members: Enable your access to these interactive videos by completing the Contact Us form for Zenarate, PODi’s social learning platform.
  • Non-members: Learn More about resources to increase your sales


* Pamela Barden, “Donor Retention: Stop Talking, Start Doing,” FundraisingSuccess,

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