7 Ways to Prioritize Donor Acquisition and Retention This Year
It’s a truth universally acknowledged — and despised — by fundraisers.
Most of your new donors aren’t coming back next year. Or, the year after that. They’re gone. Forever. For-ev-er.
In fact, industry benchmarks reveal just 23% of first-time online donors return, compared to 64% of existing online donors. And over the last decade, nonprofits have continued to raise more funds from fewer donors. These statistics underscore the importance of not only keeping your donors, but also acquiring new ones — two goals that should stay linked in every fundraiser’s brain.
Far from being opposed, these priorities are two complementary, and critical, ingredients to a resilient fundraising program. So we’re sharing seven ways to prioritize both as you strategize for the most lucrative 2023 possible.
1. Cultivate, Cultivate, Cultivate
It will always be easier to retain your donors than acquire new ones. And with the economy on uncertain footing, retention should be top of mind in 2023. That means creating a vibrant email calendar full of gratitude, stories, impact statements and more — all with the message: Our work relies on you.
2. And Don’t Forget to Ask
The best way to keep your donors? Keep them motivated to give and make giving easy. Don’t be shy about asking your most loyal supporters for financial support, especially on the days they’re most likely to donate. Vary your tactics, messages, and cases for support all year long, and clear the way for your donors to keep donating.
Remember: Just because they’ve given once (or twice, or five times) doesn’t make their next gift a lock. It’s up to you to stay top of mind and give them a compelling reason to keep giving.
3. Accept That Some Churn Is Inevitable
Can you keep more than 36% of your donors year over year? Absolutely — many organizations do. But you can’t keep all of them. And while retention is critical to seeing the consistent gains we all want, it’s only half of the picture. You need to find new donors with paid media acquisition, lead generation, intelligent web design and SEO.
4. Message to Distinct Existing Donor Segments
To drive donor retention, it’s important to segment your audience, vary your messaging and tailor your case for support among these segments. At a minimum, segment your existing donors based on their recency. Here are some helpful segments to bear in mind:
- Made a gift last year but unfortunately not this year (LYBUNT)
- Made their first gift this year
- Made a gift this year and in previous years
Each donor cohort can be solicited with language tailored to them, acknowledging their donor history. Consider layering segmentation based on their capacity (most recent contribution amount) so that you can serve them an ask string that will increase conversion rates and maintain average gift.
You can also segment your audiences based on when and why they contributed previously. Are they Giving Tuesday donors? Emergency response donors? How did they designate their most recent gift? Speaking to your donors as specifically and personally as possible is key to driving stronger retention rates and, ultimately, lifetime value.
5. Acquire New Leads and Donors — But Don’t Stop There
New donor acquisition can be slow-going and costly — you’ll likely acquire new supporters at an initial cost. And that’s OK — as long as enough of them stay at your side. In other words, at the point of acquiring a donor, your work is far from over.
Ensure they get to know your organization with a warm, informative welcome series. Thank them profusely for joining your cause, and show them their impact. And within the first 60 days, get in that second ask — the sooner they make their next gift, the better the outlook for their long-term support.
6. Leverage Multiple Channels
From email to direct mail to SMS, each channel can play a role in keeping your mission top of mind. When cultivating your donors, point them to your website and engage them with meaningful content and (non-fundraising) actions. From there, retarget your website visitors on paid channels (such as social media ads) and consider targeting these ads based on particular page visitors.
For example, retarget donation form abandoners — those who visited your donate page without making a gift — with creative that encourages them to finish their donation. When looking to acquire donors on paid channels, create lookalike audiences based on your different donor segments: multi-year donors, year-end donors, new-this-year donors or high-capacity donors. Together, these channels provide the surround sound and multiple touch points required to drive new and subsequent gifts.
7. Set Up Your Automations
Triggered series can be excellent tools to retain newly acquired and returning donors. In addition to a robust calendar full of careful cultivation and timely appeals, consider automations that will prevent hard-earned supporters from lapsing. These can include a second-gift series launched six months after an initial gift, a renewal series 11 months after a previous gift, a monthly giving upgrade series and more.
Acquisition and retention demand different strategies — and neither is quick or simple.
The hard work of retaining donors through careful cultivation and strategic solicitations will position you to better withstand economic uncertainty that can make acquiring new donors that much harder.
But churn is a fact of this work, and a fundraising strategy is not complete until it accounts for acquisition — and a strategy to turn your new donors (who may have come at a cost) into stalwart partners in the mission you share.
The preceding blog was provided by individuals unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Sarah Dunlap is the director of digital fundraising for Media Cause. She joined Media Cause in 2019 and has worked with clients across the nonprofit sector.
She began her nonprofit fundraising career in 2009 with the Public Interest Research Group, serving an array of clients across the environmental and consumer protection space. In this role, she worked across digital and printed channels to inform, cultivate and solicit donors. Sarah brought these skills to Partners In Health in 2013, where she built a thriving digital fundraising program, drove consistent year-over-year growth and kept pace with aggressive growth targets.
Dan Reed, CFRE, is the senior account director of digital fundraising for Media Cause. Since joining Media Cause in 2018, Dan has enjoyed the opportunity of working with a wide variety of nonprofits that are striving to make the world a better place. He’s been inspired on a daily basis by helping passionate clients achieve their fundraising goals.
In 2021, Dan earned his Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation. Dan also holds his master's degree in strategic fundraising and philanthropy. Prior to Media Cause, Dan held positions at Us TOO International Prostate Cancer Education and Support Network, the Smithsonian Institution, and World Food Program USA.