We all know the stats—every year, more than 60% of all first-time donors never, ever make a second gift to an organization.

Day 017 – #Photo365 – Eggs

Moreover, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project tells us that for every $100 gained from new donors, we lose around $99 from those who lapse.  Worse, for every 100 new donors we bring on board, over a hundred disappear from the ranks of those who give us support.  But we are all so busy just trying to hold it together—what can we do?

We can, of course, say thank you to those to give to us.  And that is important.  But by itself, it is not going to do much to retain donors.  You must do more.

For starters, are you telling your donors what a big deal it is that they are partnering with you to accomplish all the fabulous things your organization does?  And at this moment, it matters not at all what size gift you’ve gotten.  Indeed, you have no idea what stands behind a seemingly small gift.  There may be great wealth, fabulous connections, all kinds of things that could make this donor very special indeed.

Thanking your donors and telling them how incredible they are—and, even more importantly, the impact their gift has made, is something so ideal for your board to get involved with.  And yes, I know, some of you—maybe most of you—have not been able to motivate your board members to do much, but saying thank you is so much easier than asking for a gift. If you show your board what you need, help them do what you need—and get them to do it while they are in front of you, you will all be very happy.  Bring them notecards and ask them to write a note to a specific list of donors telling them about what you plan on doing with their support or what you have been doing since they made their gift some time again.  Put bullet points up, informing your board members what some of those things are.  And now you are stewarding both your donors and your board.

But don’t just tell you board what to do.  Ask them—how would you like to be treated?  What is the best appreciation/donor recognition they ever received from a nonprofit? What appeals to them is likely to appeal to your other donors.  And then work with your board to help them reach out to those who have supported your organization.

When you do that, you may discover some interesting things.  Your donors very well may tell their friends and colleagues what a special organization you are.  And you board members, seeing how well donors are treated, will start to feel better about referring their friends and business associates to you.

Along with thanking your donors and showing them the importance of their support, think carefully about how often you ask for that support.  It’s true—if you don’t ask, you don’t get.  But it is also true that if you ask too often, what you will get is an annoyed donor.

Asking for support should be structured and intentional.  For larger gifts (and larger is in the eye of the beholder), you probably want to go out and meet with the prospect in person.  Smaller gifts are often asked via mail—snail and electronic—or even more arm’s length, in a newsletter, an invitation to purchase a ticket or a table, or a social media posting.

These kinds of asks are transactional and focus on the organization.  The message is, “This is who we are, and this is what we need—and we hope you will support the work we do.”
The closer you get to your donors, the more your asks are the result of a relationship you have built—between you, the organization, and the donor—and the more you have focused on what the donor wants to accomplish with his or her gift.

Those asks are all about helping the donor make the kind of impact they desire.

You ask for these gifts infrequently, and only after you know whether the donor is ready, willing and able to support the things you do.

What you do, of course, is make sure your donors feel your love.  Because  when they don’t, they cease to be our donors!  So:

  • Thank each and every person who supported you in any way this year by telling them how their support mattered
  • Before you approach a donor for a follow-on gift, connect in some personal way to let them know that you value their support and are thrilled that they are a part of your community
  • When you get a gift, don’t just thank the donor, engage with him or her and find out why they wanted to help and how else they would like to be involved.  You can do this as part of your acknowledgement or—better yet—in your follow up thank you from you, a board member, or a fellow donor.
  • Figure out a strategy for every level or type of donor you have as to how next year you can better treat them and get them more engaged.


Most of all, make sure they know that it is, indeed, all about them!

—Janet Levine

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