Two Magic Words to Increase Donor Retention Rate


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Thank you. A simple phrase that’s habitual and nearly overlooked at times. When it comes to your fundraising strategy, expressing genuine appreciation is a proven recipe to increase donor retention.

To create an attitude of gratitude, get your entire organization involved and give everyone an important role to play. When your whole team is focused on appreciation, donors feel more connected to your charity, have a better giving experience and often continue to provide support.

A Thank You Strategy That Will Increase Donor Retention

NextAfter and recently released the Non-Profit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study. 91% of organizations stop acknowledging recurring donations after the third month. This indicates that there’s a huge opportunity for your charity to grow by staying in touch with donors beyond their initial gift.

You need a clear thank you policy that reminds donors how valuable they are to the success of your efforts. If you haven’t developed this yet, start by defining the following:

  • Who receives a thank you? (Hint: Every donor and gift!)
  • When do say thank you?
  • How is your thank you delivered?
  • From whom does the acknowledgement come?
  • What message is in your thanks?

    Documenting this strategy (and planning the process to support it) avoids the scramble of sending thank you notes on a case-by-case basis. It ensures all donors feel acknowledged, from first-time givers to long-time supporters. And it goes a long way towards helping your organization increase donor retention.

    Customize Your Thank You Messages

    That being said, donor thank you messages are not one size fits all. While everyone should receive some type of acknowledgement, the form it takes may vary based on factors like:

  • Is this a first time gift?
  • Is this a single gift or a recurring donation?
  • What was the donation amount?
  • Have you sent this donor a thank you note before?
  • Through what channel was the donation made?

    You will likely identify several different ways to say thanks, depending on some of the above factors. Some tactics to consider are:

  • Verbal acknowledgement – by phone or in-person
  • Notes/cards – printed or handwritten
  • Digital – websites, social media, newsletter, annual report

    Once you decide which thank you tactics are the right fit for your charity, develop an outline of when and how donors will be acknowledged. Classy shares a great stewardship matrix that you can use as a blueprint. Here’s a simplified version that can work as well.

    Common Mistakes that Can Impact Donor Experience

    Candid, an educational resource for non-profits, identifies 9 mistakes non-profits often make with donor thank you communications. Some of the most obvious include:

  • Misspelling the donor’s name
  • Not personalizing the greeting
  • Failing to mention the impact of their gift

    One of the most common mistakes is sending a boring, cookie-cutter thank you note. The standard “thank you for your gift…” language can come across as lifeless and uncaring.

    We recommend choosing words that create an immediate connection to your cause. Use your thank you as a way to deepen your relationship not just provide a receipt. And consider showing off a bit of your personality.

    Using Technology to Automate Donor Thank You Communications

    A non-profit CRM is helpful tool when implementing a thank you strategy. But it does require that donor data be accurate, complete and current. We know this can be a challenge, especially when doing face-to-face fundraising. Street teams interact with donors in real time, collecting contact data along with donations. It’s often unrealistic to get that data promptly entered into your CRM or other systems of record.

    If you really want to increase donor retention rate, it’s vital to establish a process for all donor records to be updated at the end of the day, or at least during the following business day. This lets you rely on technology to send the first thank you within 24 hours.

    CRMs allow you to build simple workflows so that each time a new donor is entered into their system, an automatic email is triggered. This email can be personalized to thank the donor by name and customized to reflect their donation amount, campaign they engaged with and more.

    Say Thank You Often

    Remember that an automated thank you does not replace the importance of high-touch, personal acknowledgment. Expressing your gratitude every chance you get is a surefire way to increase donor retention and give people the warm fuzzy feeling that keeps them giving.

    In addition to acknowledging your donors, be sure to thank the teams that work tirelessly behind the scenes to help you achieve your mission. Create a recognition program for your support staff and volunteers. Acknowledge your fundraisers for hitting their goals. You can even consider thanking your partners, vendors, and providers to let them know the impact their support has on your overall cause.

    There are countless ways you can bring your thank you strategy to life. At the end of the day, just remember to be genuine and express your gratitude often.

    RJ Renna
    I have worked with all levels of government to be the voice for our small business in Lindenhurst. As a Co-Founder of the Christina Renna Foundation Inc., I have successfully advocated for the passing of two laws to fight Children's Cancer. My unique experiences provide me with a diverse skill set that is willing to take on challenging tasks. Through this experience, I am focusing my efforts on developing highly customized strategies for a range of clients in the customer acquisition and donor acquisition sectors.


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