Let your love flow: the secret to donor retention

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Shower the people you love with love – James Taylor

A few weeks back, a dispatch from a beloved organization landed in my mailbox. As a monthly donor, my gift is automatic, and a routine, initial thank you arrived soon after I pledged. Then, later, this missive came. Curious, I opened the letter and started to read.

“Dear friend,” it began from the executive director, who I know. We’re not besties, but certainly not strangers. The letter trumpeted accomplishments and accolades so numerous the text turned blurry. I couldn’t see myself in the story. And, maybe that doesn’t matter; I’ll keep supporting these folks because I believe deeply in their work.

But, I’m not everybody.

People often ask me for fundraising tips to boost giving as if there is a magic formula. Well, there is! And it’s simpler than you think.

The key?

OG, fundraising icon, Jerry Panas, struck me years ago at a seminar when he said, “you need to make love to your donors, especially after that first gift.” Why? Well, he knew a little secret:

More donors than NOT stop giving after the first gift.

All that effort and energy into “acquiring” a new donor…lost in a moment.

Love up your donors.

So, is there a lovemaking strategy? Nope. Just an attitude and a small set of practices make all the difference.

Through her research, Penelope Burke determined that donors don’t want tchotchkes, trinkets, or plaques. Instead, they (we) yearn for meaning and impact.

Sound daunting?

It’s easy to create meaning for your donors through a simple, three-stage thank you:

The 3-stage thank you.

First, start with a genuine thank you.
In your voice and with an attitude of gratitude. The money isn’t the gift; the relationship is. As Kim Klein says, “thank before you bank.” Make it snappy, pertinent, and compelling. Each person’s contribution to your organization carries their desire and commitment for a better, brighter future manifest through your work.

Next, offer a mid-year or season report.
Help your donor see the work in action and how their support is essential to the progress. Make them the obvious hero in this communication and connect the dots with a bright line between their gift and your impact. You’re in it together.

Finally, provide a wrap-up communication.
Do this BEFORE you ask for the next gift. Keep that donor-centered vibe going. Show them what you accomplished with their help and you did what you said you would. This vital step builds loyalty and community.

I love the way Edgar Villanueva’s giving circle, Liberated Capital, appreciates donors. His team creates pithy one-hour celebrations filled with ritual, swift and compelling project reports, and opportunities for donors to connect. Nothing fancy, just real.

Pro-Tip: keep in mind that first-time donors are likely not first-time-ever donors.
They may be first-time donors to your organization, but most people are giving in lots of places. A small gift to start is often a test, so never underestimate the power of a small gift. The data suggest that a person giving through five cycles will be a donor for life. Loyalty comes from time and experience. There’s also oodles of evidence that small and regular donors are often the ones who make significant planned gifts, too.

The long term starts with the short term, friends! Shower your people with love and watch your donor relationships blossom.


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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