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Best Practices in Donor Relations

We all know that it’s better to keep a donor than to find a new donor. So, why are donor retention rates so bad? According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Fundraising Effectiveness Project:

In 2020, the donor retention rate in the U.S. was 43.6%.

The donor retention range over the past five years was 43.6 – 47.2%.

In 2018, for every 100 donors gained, 105 donors were lost through attrition.

Donor attrition impacts fundraising effectiveness.

Yikes! This is why a donor relations plan is so important. According to our friends at the Association of Donor Relations Professionals, donor relations is more than a nice thank you letter. It is the comprehensive effort of any nonprofit that seeks philanthropic support to ensure that donors experience high-quality interactions with the organization that fosters long-term engagement and investment. The elements of an effective plan fall into these four categories:

Gift Acceptance and Management

  • Gift review processes

  • Policies and procedures

  • Gift acceptance policy

  • Gift agreements and donor intent

  • Giving levels/opportunities

  • Gift tracking

  • Misallocated gifts

  • Donation refunds


  • Know the difference between acknowledgment “tax letters” and thank you letters

  • Understand gift receipting and IRS requirements

  • Try to follow best practices by sending acknowledgments within three business days

Donor recognition

  • Donor recognition events

  • Giving societies and honor rolls

  • Donor walls and named space signage

  • Donor profiles in publications


  • Show impact of their gifts on the mission of the organization.

  • Donors engaged and informed

  • Stewardship: quantitative -fiduciary responsibility and qualitative-storytelling

As we see, stewardship is a component of donor relations. Stewardship is about making sure the gift is used as the donor intended it to be. Remember, while all stewardship is donor relations, but


Use this information to keep your donors close. Fundraisers talk about relationships all the time. Donor relations is at the heart of the donor-nonprofit relationship.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in startup and smaller nonprofits because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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