How to Treat Donor Retention Like a Sales Campaign


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While my main expertise lie in marketing and PR, I have been studying the world of nonprofits and fundraising in the last few years and have found an interesting parallel recently – donor retention is very similar to a sales campaign.

In this article I want to dive deep into this parallel and share how the two are related.

One of the top priorities in any nonprofit organization is achieving fundraising success and making sure that success is sustainable.

This means finding and acquiring new donors to get the funds needed for your projects. As a result, you get caught up with this that you forget to retain those that you already have.

Out of every 10 donors you get, you’ll lose 4. That means you’ll need to reconsider your approach to help you get better results from your efforts.

Here’s something else you need to know: Donor retention doesn’t just happen.

It’s ingrained in the process through which you use to find and acquire new donors.

So you need to be intentional about it from the beginning by treating it like a sales campaign.

But is it possible to treat donor retention like a sales campaign without feeling like a fraud?

Yes. And here’s how to do it:

1. Segment your donors

You need to personalize your interactions with donors so that you connect with them and make them feel appreciated. To do that, you need to know things such as:

  • Their demographic information
  • Their preferred mode of contribution
  • Their preferred method of communication (offline or online)
  • Type of donor (Individual or Corporate)

Having this information helps you understand your donors at a deeper level, which, according to outbound specialists at Reply, makes it easier to develop an ideal customer (read donor) profile.

And there’s one more thing (perhaps the most important one) you need to know about your donors: the causes they care about and why they care about them.

Donors contribute to your organization for different reasons, and knowing these reasons sets you apart from everyone else because you’re going to be strategic about how you approach them and convince them to contribute to your organization.

The causes they care about determine how often they contribute and how long they are willing to fund that cause. Besides, you’re going to identify distinct personas among your donors, allowing you to customize your interactions with them.

For example, if your nonprofit helps veterans fit back into society after their service, you might find a group of donors who have lost a family member or friend after serving because of this reason. By personalizing your interactions, you have a greater chance to encourage them to contribute to your organization as a way to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

As you speak to them, you’re going to be relevant and sensitive as you talk about issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, finding new career paths, and readjusting with family and friends. This will create a connection with your donors who feel that you understand them, earning their loyalty in the process.

2. Invest in building awareness

As we’ve already mentioned, your segments help you become strategic about how you will approach your donors and ask them for funding. Building awareness enables you to spread the word about your organization, create a positive perception about your organization, and earn a donor’s trust.

So, focus on talking about your projects, what you stand for, how you work, and the impact you have made so far.

Besides, you need to keep a pipeline full of potential donors whom you interact with so that once an opportunity to fund a project comes up, all you need to do is inform them and request them for funding.

Create a video to help you pass build awareness of what you do, just like Arby’s Foundation does it in their campaign to end childhood hunger during summer:

Another way to create awareness is through building sponsorship links on large publication websites. The funny part about this tactic is that there are a million services our there claiming they can do this for you, here is an example.

I am always VERY cautious of these types of offerings, a lot of the time you can simply sponsor another website and ask them to reference you or link to you without engaging any third party service. It’s not a horrible idea to engage a service provider either, you just need to do your due diligence on how trustworthy these folks truly are.

We’ve got more than 4.2 billion internet users, and most of their popular searches are on news sites, weather updates, and Youtube.

These links help place your organization left, right and center. Potential donors don’t only see you, they are curious to know about the organization that’s showing up on the sites they visit often.

3. Deliver sales messages

How do you handle a donor who tells you that they’re supporting other groups so they can’t fund you? Or another who intends to stop funding you in the coming year because they’re surviving on one income?

There are things beyond your control that lead to donor attrition so your sales messages need to take care of such situations so that you retain your donors through overcoming these objections.

Scheduling a sales meetings with your donors in order to connect with them and understand why they are hesitant to fund your projects is one the best methods to engage them and possibly retain them. I typically schedule sales meetings through Google Calendar because it integrates with most platforms our there.

In our earlier example, a donor who is supporting several organizations might not be a great fit right now. However, you can still convince them to consider you as they plan which organizations to fund in the coming year.

In the second example, your sales message should focus on finding out other ways your donor might be of help to your organization such as referrals, organizing live events, or even working part-time at your organization.

One of the biggest issues I see with nonprofits messaging donors is a donor might get a call from one representative of a nonprofit and an email from another representative and the big issue is that these two reps never talked with each other and so the whole outreach process falls down. It’s important to have one dashboard and software where all calls, emails, chats, SMS messages lie for each client. This is crucial to make sure your internal record keeping is streamlined and up to date for every donor.

Whichever way you approach it, the goal is to make your donor feel useful to your organization as opposed to them feeling like they’re just money vending machines.

4. Follow up after closing donations

Donors don’t want to contribute money and forget about it till the next time they have to do it. The relationships you build and nurture with your donors help them stay connected with your organization. They will be open to funding projects you have or refer you to their friends to support your projects, helping you reduce the time and money it takes to find new donors.

Retaining a donor is easier than acquiring a new one. Keep them engaged through scheduled email sequences on how projects are going on, share success stories, and be candid about what isn’t working. It helps you come across as an authentic organization. Take a look at an example template of these here.

5. Have a backup plan

Having a backup plan is critical for donor retention campaigns. Often times, companies, plans, and aspirations can change on a dime.

In addition, natural events and the current economic state can have a big impact on success rates.

For example, with the current outbreak of COVID-19, donor retention is harder than ever according to Ian Hayes CEO ad Founder of GivingTrack app at – a service which helps thousands of companies manage and engage their donors:

“It’s a little early to understand the full impact of Covid 19 on the nonprofit fundraising sector. One early observation is how quickly event revenue has dried up. As many organizations have moved to peer to peer fundraising as their primary channel (peer to peer is well known for attracting donors with limited affinity to the fundraising organization, thus “one and done” donors) organizations are at risk because they don’t have the traditional loyal donor-base to turn to for help to get through this trying time. They may be faced with reducing services unless they can access grants or government funding.”

Be sure to implement analytics into your donor retention campaigns to keep a database of annual impacts, success rates, and which tactics are proving effective. Ian Hayes recommends using Giving Trak to set up dashboards with real-time data on fundraising goals, status, and contacts.


Donor retention is a battle to earn your donor’s trust and loyalty. There’s a steep learning curve that includes building awareness, overcoming objections, continuous segmentation, and following up with donors.

You have a great organization that helps solve different problems people face every day. That organization is worth fighting for through donor retention.

It’s important to work donor retention plans into the sales process you use to find and acquire donors. Technology and apps such as GivingTrak give you the data and metrics you need to track donor contributions and help you determine how to retain a specific them better over time.

Use this data to build loyalty and trust with your donors. Your beneficiaries are counting on you.

Dmitry Dragilev
Dmitry is the founder of - a software tool which helps you find easy to rank keywords on Google for your blog. In 2014 Dmitry founded — an SEO tool which makes PR and backlink outreach a breeze. It's currently used by 5K+ marketers to build links and pitch podcasters, bloggers & journalists without PR firms. It was acquired in 2021. From 2012-2014 Dmitry grew a startup from 0 to 40M+ pageviews through PR and got acquired by Google. More about Dmitry on his blog -


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