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Donor Stewardship: The Crucial Part of Fundraising

It’s time for fundraising math, ready? Would you rather gain 100 new donors and lose 96 donors or keep the 96 and gain 4 new ones? According to a survey from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), most nonprofit organizations are in the first category, losing almost as many donors as they gain.

AFP’s Fundraising Effectiveness Project is an annual report that deep dives into donor habits and trends in our industry. In 2017 the median donor retention rate for all non-profits was 45.3%. That’s means that less than half of all donors decided to give again during this year.

In comparison, the average retention rate over the past 10 years is 44%. The retention rate in the 2017 report was 43%, so while retention has gone up slightly this year, it has remained pretty constant across the decade.

What about your organization? Do you know your donor retention rate? If not, now would be a good time to find out. How do we turn this around? How do we keep our donors and at the same time, attract new one?

Here’s how you determine your donor retention rate:

· Divide the number of returning donors by the total number of donors from year one.

· For example, let’s say 60 of your 200 donors decided to give another gift, then your retention rate is 30%.

Don’t despair. This is where having a plan, some help, and a commitment to be consistent pays off. To state the obvious, thanking our donors is a critical part of fundraising. It’s worth it in the long run to take the time to create a donor relations plan for your development team. Certainly, there should be touch points lined up for your major donors, but you can also thank all your donors. Your board of directors, staff and volunteers can all be a part of your Thank You Team.

If you have the budget to send flowers, little treats, and other gifts, by all means, do it, but, if you don’t that’s okay, too. For most of us, creativity is the currency of gratitude, and that does not have to be expensive. A handwritten thank you note from a scholarship recipient will be cherished by the donor.

Your plan should include at least seven touch points throughout the year, interspersed with your campaigns or appeals. Here are a few suggestions.

· The first touch point should be the formal, tax acknowledgment from your gift processing team

· A thank you phone call from staff, saying how the gift will be used

· A hand-written note from the person who requested the gift

· A phone call from the executive director or board president

· A mention of the gift in your newsletter

· Add to your donor list on your website

· A few months later, another thank you call from a board member

· An email with a client story

· Include the donor in a giving circle that is appropriate for their gift

· Schedule a “How are you?” call before you ask again

As you steward your donors, remember The Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. Be authentic in your gratitude, respectfully celebrate your donors, and give then a reason to continue their support.

Here are a couple of resources to help you steward your donors:

· Donor Relations info graphic link here

· AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project link here

· The Association of Donor Relations,


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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