Donor Retention: Converting New Donors into Lifelong Supporters

Do you have a donor retention strategy for converting new donors into lifelong supporters?

Giving Tuesday is behind us and the year-end giving season is in full swing. With more than 1/3 of all donations being made during the month of December, there’s no better time to implement a donor retention plan than now!

According to Bloomerang, average nonprofit donor retention rates range from 40% to 50%, while the average commercial customer retention rates of 70-90% or higher.

That’s rather abysmal and should make us all do a double-take on our donor retention strategies.

We’re really good at asking donors to give again and again, but we don’t necessarily do a good job of 1) making them feel like an important part of our community, 2) informing them about the impact of their gifts, or 3) inspiring them to give again.

How can we do a better job of increasing donor retention rates?

It all starts with your thank you note.

Let’s start with the obvious. To the extent possible, personalize your thank you’s. Go beyond including your donor’s name in your salutation. This will be easy if you segmented your list based on different donor profiles.

For example, after sharing a short story that demonstrates the impact of a donor’s gift, you might say:

  • “As a monthly donor, you didn’t have to make a year-end gift, but you did, and that makes you…”
  • “As a long-time supporter, you understand…”
  • “As a parent, you know what it’s like…”
  • “Your gift earmarked for…will go directly to…”

Of course, one personalized thank you note won’t magically turn a new donor into a lifelong supporter. You need to connect with your donors frequently, and in all your communication, you need to offer something of interest and value.

Try creating an email drip campaign aimed at nurturing relationships with new donors and ultimately converting them into long-term supporters.

Here’s an example of a drip campaign that involves 4 short emails issued once a week for 4 weeks, following the first donation.

This sample drip campaign follows the TERRA model: Thank/Engage, Report, Report again, Ask.

Email Drip Campaign for Converting Donors to Lifelong Supporters


Email #1 – Thank & Engage

Your first thank-you note should go out within a few hours of receiving a donation. The objectives are to 1) ensure your donor feels recognized and appreciated, and 2) strengthen your donor’s sense of connection to your community.

Subject Line: Thank you & welcome to the family

Email drip campaign


Email #2 – Report

Your second email should go out approximately one week after sending Email #1. The objectives of this email are to:

  • Strengthen the emotional connection between the donor and your organization/beneficiaries
  • Share the important impact of their gift
  • Make donor feel like a hero

Subject Line: Saving Arctic Animals, One fox at a Time

drip campaign for retaining donors


Email #3 – Report Again

Your third email should go out within a week of Email #2.

Your objectives are to continue the work you started in terms of strengthening the donor’s emotional connection to your organization and making him/her feel like a hero. If the donor gave to a specific program within your organization, this might also be a good time to introduce your organization’s overall mission or the bigger picture.

Sample Subject Line: You’ll be Surprised to Learn How Many Arctic Foxes You Helped Save

Donor retention email drip campaign


Email #4 — Ask

Your final email for this campaign should be sent within a week of Email #3. The objective here is straightforward: Convert one-time donors to recurring donors.

Subject:  More Endangered Arctic Animals Will Perish Unless We Act Today

donor retention email drip campaign

So there you have it. Utilizing the TERRA-based drip campaign, these four email samples can guide you in drafting your own emails aimed at converting first-time donors to lifelong supporters.

And like I said, it all starts with your first thank-you letter.

With more than 1/3 of all donations being made during the month of December, there’s no better time than now to implement this strategy!

You can find more tips for showing your donors some genuine love here and here.

Was this blog helpful? If so, make my day and tweet about it or share it on Linked In today.

What are you doing to convert new donors into recurring donors? I’d love to know! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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