How do you retain donors as a non-profit organization?

AFP Foundation for Philanthropys “Fundraising Effectiveness Survey” indicates that only 23% of first-time donors to a cause donate again. Those who have donated more than once are almost three times as likely to remain donors (60%). If they are monthly donors, the chance that they will continue to give increases to 90%.

When acquiring a new donor costs 10 to 20 times the cost of retaining an existing donor, it is clear that increasing the proportion of returning donors should be a high priority for non-profit organisations.

Think commercially to succeed ideally

In summary:

  • Build loyalty with recognition programs
  • Mark milestones
  • Make it easy to give/re-buy, with a click.
  • Strengthen the network via personal relationships
  • Personalize using Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

In this post from 2023, we go into the similarities between commercial and ideal thinking, and shows that communication is communication, whether the goal is to sell a product or transform a potential donor into a regular donor.

In online shops, for example, we talk about customer journeys, while in fundraising it's called donor journeys. But these journeys have more similarities than differences, and often they are exactly the same. In their simplest form, both the donor journey and the customer journey are about attracting people to us, getting them to consider us as an alternative, choose us (convert), and finally get excited about what we do.

Hint: It is in the last phase that the key to obtaining ambassadors and regular donors lies. More on that later.

As marketers, one of the most important things we can do is to know which part of this journey we can improve the most on. To find this out, we can, regardless of whether we work with a non-profit or commercial enterprise:

  • Check visitor numbers on the website, followers and likes in social media etc. and carry out surveys to find out if we are struggling to get attention and attract people.
  • If we have enough visitors and followers but are struggling to get them to register for newsletters or leave contact information in other ways, we can analyze what people do on our landing pages and user test the content to improve this.
  • If we get enough contact information (leads), but these people are not interested in actually donating to our cause, we can work with forms, incentives, messages etc.
  • And if there are many who give but do not become regular donors, we have to look at what we can improve in the follow-up of the donors who want to keep them. It is this phase that we will look at in this article.

Different actions we take to improve will target different phases of the donor journey. For example: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will usually be directed towards the left side of the illustration, while a customer club will lie to the right.

The aim of this article is to show some examples and give some ideas on how we can retain donors and minimize dropouts. Or what is called "churn" in marketing parlance.

Start with the most important thing: the loyalty program

If we are to take lessons from the commercial sector - The best online stores have customer clubs which rewards loyal customers. Below is an example from, which gives you a "Genius" status that increases the more loyal you are, i.e. how many trips you book through the site. Such measures are called "gamification", which makes the shopping experience more interactive and rewarding.

Another move they make to keep the customer is to remember who the customer is and what they have done, here exemplified by the use of first names.

Fundraisers can do something similar, but for example call it "recognition programs" rather than customer clubs. A points system that increases per donation can provide access to non-material rewards such as exclusive events or webinars as a thank you for their support. Digital recognition can also be given to donors who reach certain milestones, such as donating a certain number of times, or recruiting new donors to the cause.

Another fun example of gamification can be seen in the podcast No Agenda, where donors are given producer titles on individual episodes if they give extra. This is a light-hearted (and free) way to both reward listeners and tie them more closely to your organisation.

Watch your timing

The best online stores have fingerspitzengefühl when it comes to delivering the right message at the right time. In its simplest form, it is about remembering the donor's birthday. Advanced users will use holidays and seasons as apropos for messages, such as advertising for changing tires in the spring or presents at christmas. The professionals use computer models, by, for example, offering new ink cartridges when your printer is statistically likely to run out of ink.

The tip of the top is good, old-fashioned personal contact. Joe Girard is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the world's best car salesman. His secret wasn't high technology or predictive analytics, but sending handwritten Christmas and birthday cards to not only the car owner, but their children and families as well.

It is of course impossible to send handwritten cards to all donors - the point is both to let all donors feel seen and appreciated, and to take extra and personal care of key donors.

For example, you can:

  • Mark the anniversary of your first donation.
  • Give customers a special discount or gift on their birthday to create a personal connection.
  • Mark other days that have special significance for your purpose
  • Recognize donors on social media (with their consent)
  • Create a "donor wall" on the website where donors are mentioned by name
  • Give donors “behind the scenes” access where you show them around live, perhaps in the warehouse where support materials are sent out to those in need
  • Interview them in the newsletter
  • Invite them to volunteer
  • Create detailed reports that show exactly what the support has gone to
  • Collaborate with artists who can send out digital art

You’re only limited by your imagination.


Personalisation in fundraising is about tailoring the communication and interaction to the individual donor to create a more relevant and engaging experience. This can increase the donor's commitment and support for the organisation. Some ways to implement personalization can be:

  • Donor database segmentation: Use data on past donations, interests and engagement to segment donors. This makes it possible to send targeted communications that resonate with each group or individual.
  • Adapted communication strategies: Develop unique communication strategies for different donor groups. For example, some donors may prefer detailed reports on how their donations are being used, while others may be more interested in personal stories of those who have been helped.

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is essential for retaining customers by delivering personalized experiences throughout the customer journey. By collecting and analyzing customer data, CRM provides insights that enable targeted communication and marketing to large groups of people. CRM sales features, such as automated follow-up reminders and email tracking, also help maintain contact and build trust.

Some still have their customer system as an Excel sheet, in the email system, or directly in the CMS (website), but the best online stores use CRM to personalize.

Optimise, optimise, optimise

Once you have set up a good system for personalization, you should also take the time to see how what you send out affects donors. Maybe you fuss too much or too little, are too personal or not personal enough? Send out surveys to your donors to improve your communication, preferably with incentives you think they'll be interested in.

Make the donor journey frictionless

In the competition for donors, it is important to make it as easy as possible to give. The last thing you want is for a willing donor to drop out because the registration form is too complicated or takes too long to fill out. This is called friction. Limit the number of required fields, buttons to press, and visual distractions. Once the donors have made it as far as the donation page, you should only let them complete the donation, without interference.

It should be similarly easy to go from being a one-time donor to a permanent donor.

Create ambassadors

Most people trust family and friends the most when it comes to making a decision about spending money. Creating such a good experience for donors that they recruit others is therefore extremely important. You do this through the steps we have already mentioned, but you can also provide incentives for referrals, as Western Union has done here:

But what about when the donor wants to break up anyway?

In summary:

  • Make it simple - obvious manipulation is sussed out
  • Communicate the consequences
  • Show understanding
  • Give a good final impression
  • Don't whine or show bitterness

A donor relationship is a continuous process, and must be maintained. But what do you do if the donor, despite recognition programs and personalization, wants to break up? And how do the best online stores deal with this?

Ending a donor relationship is a delicate task that requires both tact and strategic thinking. The first step is to approach the situation with understanding and respect for the donor's decision.

In dysfunctional relationships, one tactic is to make it easy to opt in but difficult to opt out. It is an example of manipulative design or "dark patterns". It is short-sighted, shows little respect for the giver, is bad for the reputation and makes the breakup more bitter than it needs to be. It can also lead to angry messages on social media.

The first and last part of an experience are often the ones people remember best (recency effect), so if you want to keep the door open for a possible reunion, you should focus on a positive last impression.

A personal thank you note is a good place to start.

Keeping the lines of communication open is essential; inform the donor that they can always come back and that you will keep them updated on new initiatives and projects.

In addition to giving thanks for what has been, you can also look ahead, with positivity and bright colors. If you end the customer relationship in a cold and businesslike way, you leave a cold and businesslike last impression, and you confirm through the design that opting out was perhaps the right choice.

To increase the chances of winning back donors, one can implement a "pause" feature in the membership that allows donors to temporarily stop their contributions without ending the relationship completely. Subscriber services such as Audible do this very actively.

I myself have tried to quit Audible 3-4 times, but they always made me an offer I couldn't refuse…

Exit interview

An exit interview or questionnaire can be useful to obtain information about why they choose to end support, which can provide valuable insight for future improvements. At this stage, it is important to ensure that the donor feels valued and that their contribution has been meaningful.

In fundraising, donor feedback tools are more than just a method for conducting surveys. They represent an opportunity to start a dialogue with people who have strong opinions about your organization. This can be crucial to prevent donors who have had negative experiences choosing to end their involvement.

When donors take the time to provide feedback, it shows that they are engaged and interested in your work. Responding to this feedback, whether positive or negative, is an important part of maintaining and improving the donor relationship. For example, if a donor leaves positive feedback, sending a thank you note can be an excellent way to show that you appreciate their support. This helps to strengthen the bond with the donor and increases the chance that they will continue to support the organization.

For negative feedback, this provides a chance to address and resolve any issues. This shows that your organization values ​​all feedback and is dedicated to continuous improvement. By acknowledging and acting on feedback, organizations can not only improve their strategies and operations, but also build stronger, more meaningful relationships with their donors.


Henrik is the Head of Insights and Analysis in Frontkom. He has 15+ years of experience as a CMS consultant, developer and web analyst. Henrik is almost obsessed in finding out what works on web and how to get there with content strategy and data analysis tools.

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