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Donor Retention vs. New Donors: Donor Retention ALWAYS Wins

Welcome back to the Major Gift Challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, check out the introductory video here.

Your organization has a bottom line. You don’t measure it as profit, but rather the good it generates.

There’s a balance in fundraising known to impact that bottom line. It is the relationship of “donor retention” to “donor acquisition.”

Although acquisition of new donors is important, the numbers don’t lie. The value proposition and financial benefit for your organization falls clearly on keeping the donors you have over finding new donors.

It’s natural to think more is better. That’s why so many fundraising efforts focus on donor acquisition. Yet, when it comes to raising major gifts, it’s even more critical to focus on the donors you have.

Your major donors have already expressed their passion for your organization. They’ve given a sizable gift. You’re more likely to secure a second (and a third) major gift from existing donors than you are to secure a first Major Gift from a prospect. There’s value and financial benefit in donor retention.

3 Simple Ways to Retain Your Major Donors

There are three simple things you can do immediately to retain your major donors.

1. Keep in touch with major donors

Every fundraiser asks the question, how often should you be in touch with your major donors?

That question comes from worrying that you are “bothering” your donors. It’s a mistake to think that if you are providing them with important information, genuinely seeking out their advice, or offering them an opportunity to help.

The worst thing you can do is ignore your major donors—yet that’s exactly what many organizations do.

Think about how you keep in touch with old friends or distant relatives. If you stop calling, writing, or making an effort to be in touch, the relationship dies. The same is true with your major donors.

Try to reach out at least once a month and do one or more of the following:

  • Say thank you
  • Ask for advice
  • Provide an update
  • Invite them to volunteer

The more “in-touch” you are, the more likely they are to continue to support your cause.

2. Be honest with donors

Honesty truly is the best policy.

If a program or service didn’t work out for any reason, let your donors know. No one likes failure, but the truth is most success in life comes after failure. Your donors haven’t gotten to where they are without some failure. Let them know you have learned from this effort. Go to them and explain why the project didn’t work and what you plan to try instead.

Donors are investing in your organization to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges. They don’t expect you to get it right every time. If your mission was easy, you would have done it a long time ago.

No one likes to be lied to, and everyone likes to “be in the know.” Don’t keep your donors in the dark. Let donors know the challenges you face so they can rise to the occasion and swoop in like a hero to help you solve them!

An open and honest relationship with your donors will strengthen their trust in you. And they will want to continue working with, and supporting folks they know they can trust.

3. Ask for help from donors

After keeping in touch with your donors, and being open and honest with them about your successes and failures, they will be primed and ready to help. Now it’s up to you to let them know what you need.

Give them plenty of opportunities to help, both financially and otherwise. If you need something, don’t be afraid to ask. Feel free to give them a chance to help more than once a year.

Major donors support your organization because they are committed to your cause. Give them every chance to be the hero.

Challenge Yourself Action Item

Step 1: Track your major donor retention rate.

If you don’t know your major donor retention rate, start tracking now. It’s not as hard as you might think. This easy-to-use metrics worksheet will help you get started.

Step 2: Make honesty your best donor policy.

Print out an “Honesty is the best policy” sign and hang it over your desk. You want to constantly remind yourself to always be open and honest with your donors. This is so important!

Step 3: Make a plan to keep in touch and ask for help.

We’ve covered ways to cultivate your donors and reach out for help earlier in the Major Gift Challenge. Feel free to review those posts.

Going Further with Major Gifts

Retaining your major donors will ensure the long term success of your major gift program. To learn more on how to retain your major donors, check out my online course on Mastering Major Gifts. In the course, I provide specific strategies and additional details on how to retain your biggest donors.

Act, Comment and Participate

Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge. What does your organization do to retain donors of all sizes?

Share your ideas in the comments.

Donor Retention vs. New Donors: Donor Retention ALWAYS WinsThe preceding is a cross-post by author, speaker, and trainer Amy Eisenstein. Amy’s published books include Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, Raising More with Less, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks. She became an AFP certified Master Trainer in 2009. Amy recently completed her service as the president of the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals—New Jersey Chapter. She became a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) in 2004 and received her advanced certification, ACFRE, in 2013. Check out her blog and video posts at for free fundraising tips and best practices.

Topics: Fundraising Major Gifts Donor Retention