Fundraising Flair: Retaining Your Donors

By Brent Glass, associate director, individual giving

Some people donated to your program to help feed kids on the weekend. Now what?

One of the most daunting challenges facing nonprofits across the country is retaining the donors they currently have. Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic wand that program coordinators can wave that keeps donors giving year after year (and, hopefully, more than once a year!). But, there are a few easy steps you can take to ensure that you are retaining as many donors as possible.

1. Send a handwritten thank you card

This might seem obvious, but not every nonprofit takes this step—and it can go a long way. This is in addition to the thank you tax receipt letter (see letter used here in the PC Toolkit) that Blessings sends to all donors for whom we have a mailing address. A good practice is to prewrite thank you cards so that they’re ready to go when a donation comes in. You want donors to receive this thank you within two weeks of making a gift.

Create a template (but have different language for repeat donors), and you or another program volunteer can write the note and sign. In the message, be sure to express appreciation and tell them how their donation will impact your program—how they’re making a difference. For example, if someone donates $50, be sure to include a note that lets them know their donation will help your program provide a kid hunger-free weekends for half of a school year. Templates are also available in the PC Toolkit.

Develop a system that works for you. The size of your program and the number of volunteers available to you will dictate your system. Maybe you only want to send handwritten thank you cards to donors over $100. Maybe over $50. Create a policy and a plan for how to execute.

Just remember, you should try to personalize communication with all of your donors at some point. If you don’t have the time or resources to send handwritten thank you cards to some donors, think about sending them a quick email (if possible).

2. Make a thank you call

Making a thank you call to donors can be the personal touch they need to keep giving to your program. You don’t have to call them as quick as you send them a thank you card. In fact, you might want to wait six to eight weeks.

Again, create a template. If you have any anxiety about making thank you calls to donors, you shouldn’t. These will be the easiest calls you make, and by the end, you’ll have a smile on your face! People are longing to know they made a difference. You get to tell them that they have. Templates are available in the PC Toolkit.

Again, develop a system that works for you. Depending on the number of donors and volunteers you have, you might choose to call everyone who gave over a certain level, say $100. Alternatively, you might decide to call every donor. Develop something that works for you.

To help call all of your donors, you might think about organizing a “thank-a-thon.” Gather some of your volunteers for a couple hours on one night and call to thank your donors. Again, you’re just calling to thank them. This should be fun!

Just remember that you should have a personalized communication with every donor at some point throughout the year.

3. Invite donors to events

If applicable, invite your donors to events involving your program. If you don’t host any events as a program, you can ask donors to events that might be raising money for your program. Also, don’t forget that inviting your donors to help pack bags is a great way to involve them in the process.

4. Update donors throughout the year

An area of opportunity for every nonprofit is updating donors on the progress of their generosity. Donors give because they believe in the mission. Telling them about your impact further invests them in your work.

Use the end of the school year and the end of the calendar year as check-in points for your program. If you have a way to email or mail all of your donors, you can send them notes at these times.

Tell them how many kids you’re feeding, any touching stories you might have, and share any future goals of your program with them (a template will be available in the PC Toolkit in June). If you don’t have a way to reach all of your donors in that way, don’t fret! This is another time to use the phone.

Call donors to tell them how the program is doing. Involve any volunteers you have and turn it into a fun volunteer opportunity! Especially at the end of the calendar year, this might cause donors to give again—without having to ask them for money directly!