3 tips for retaining donors

Many nonprofits focus on expanding, whether that be in the form of new donors, causes or strategies. While that's certainly a great way to broaden the possibilities for an organization, it's equally important to put efforts into stewardship and retention. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals' "Fundraising Effectiveness Survey," there's a serious need for nonprofits to do that. The study reveals that for every 100 new donors an organization gains, it loses 105 past donors. In terms of finances, for every $100 acquired by nonprofits in 2012, $96 was lost in 2013. While the $4 difference provides some net growth, it doesn't give much.

This study demonstrates that there is a lot of untapped potential in past contributors, and it's up to nonprofit organizations to do what it takes to keep them coming back. Here are three tips for successfully retaining donors:

1. Say thank you
Demonstrating your appreciation for donors is key to keeping them committed to your cause. npENGAGE suggests that nonprofits incorporate some sort of thank-you element into every campaign, marketing strategy, online donation form and fundraising event - really anything that will be seen by donors. This is especially appropriate for annual events, where it's likely that some of last year's participants will try to get involved again. Just as you give a warm welcome to new volunteers and donors, past contributors deserve special recognition for their continued involvement.

Another big way to say "thank you" is through a thank-a-thon. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, the personal phone calls made during a thank-a-thon connect contributors with the recipient on a more intimate level. Not only do these phone calls serve as a means to demonstrate gratitude, but they also help to cultivate long-lasting donor relationships. However, phone calls aren't the only methods that can be utilized for large-scale thank-a-thons. Consider using social media, emails, videos, posters, mailing lists and donor-recognition events as additional ways to personalize your appreciation.

2. Rebuild relationships
While it's important to continuously build relationships, some donors become apathetic due to inefficient strategies aimed at maintaining contributors. Based on the AFP study, retention hasn't been a top priority for many nonprofits. Therefore, it's pivotal that organizations reach out to donors before they lose them.

Happy supporters are essential to the success of your nonprofit, so you may have to give to the givers. One way to do this is to go out of your way to benefit your repeat donors even if it's something simple. For example, Claire Axelrad, an experienced nonprofit manager and philanthropic expert, suggests sending home-baked goods to your past contributors. While this may not be practical for a larger organization, it's a great way for nonprofits to go the extra mile for apathetic donors. A standard thank-you note may not effectively show these past contributors that you're still thinking about them and appreciate what they've done for your cause. Instead, go for something more personal like a small gift or phone call.

3. Send personal appeals
Donors are much more likely to keep contributing to your nonprofit if they feel valued and appreciated, and that only happens when organizations recognize them as individuals. According to John Haydon, author of Facebook Marketing for Dummies, this is the most vital component to retention.

"The key to an effective donor retention strategy is to make your donors feel like they are the most important person in the world," he told npENGAGE.

When you send thank-you notes, sign them by hand. Specifically name the type of gift the donor sent and how it contributed to the cause. Your database of donors is only effective if volunteers and donors don't feel like they're just a name on a spreadsheet. Taking time to show that you value your contributors will pay off in the long run.

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