Chapter 12: Keeping Donors Engaged

September 15, 2021

What makes people want to give charitable contributions? Motivations include altruism, a sense of fairness,
societal pressure, the desire for recognition, wanting to leave a legacy, wanting to impress other, religious or
spiritual beliefs and more. No matter what the reason for a donation, donors need to be engaged, and nonprofits
need to sincerely say thank you and keep in touch with donors on a continuous basis.

Donors who aren’t engaged will stop contributing to an organization, and donor retention is important for creating
a stable base of donors. With nearly nearly 3 out of 4 new donors leaving and never coming back,1 donor
retention can be challenging — but donor turnover can be prevented with sufficient engagement. Here are some ways
nonprofits can keep donors engaged from the first gift and beyond.

First Things First: Saying “Thank You”
Don’t forget about the power of personally thanking your donors. Surely your organization thanks each donor with a
form letter, but how about writing a personal note on the letter, sending an additional handwritten note, sending a
personalized email or making a phone call to say thanks?
First Things First: Saying Thank You
You can invite major donors to have coffee or lunch with you (or the head of your organization), or to come and
take a special one-on-one tour or meet grateful clients. Many nonprofits send birthday cards to their board members
and major donors and send holiday cards and/or small gifts to them at the end of the year as well.

Mid-level donors can also be thanked with premiums (for more information, see the chapter “Giving Back to Your Donors With Thank-You Gifts”).
Most important, be sincere and heartfelt in your thanks to your donors. Even a simple thank-you note can use
language that imparts a true sense of gratitude. At a minimum, make sure the “thank you” page after a submitted
donation form is customized and expresses gratitude for the gift.

Naming Recognition
Naming opportunities are another way to give back to donors and keep them engaged. You can create a set menu of
naming opportunities within your organization for high-level donations. Naming opportunities can be modest (a small
plaque), or you can offer donors the ability to have an entire room, wing or program named after them. Take a look
at your organization’s past donors who have named areas or programs, and look at other nonprofits in your area and
your sector to see what naming opportunities they offer — many will list naming levels on their websites or in
their materials such as annual reports or campaign brochures.

You can also thank your donors by listing their names in an annual report and/or on your organization’s website.
Typically, these lists of donors are grouped by donation level (such as Under $500, $500 to $1,000, $1,001 to
$5,000 and so on) or by membership level (for instance, think of an aquarium using levels such as “minnows,”
“fish,” “whales,” etc).

Honoring Major Donors
You can thank major donors by honoring them at events or featuring them in your organization’s newsletter or social
media posts, if the donor agrees to it. If you want to thank a group of donors, consider highlighting the success
of a particular campaign via your newsletter, email blast or social media (“Thanks to all our incredibly generous
supporters, our #givingtuesday campaign raised over $10,000! Thank you to each and every one of you who made a

Creating a Sense of Community
Donors like to feel as though their gift has a continued impact beyond the immediate donation; they want to feel
like they are an important part of your organization. Social media is one way to impart a sense of community to
your donors, who feel like part of a community when they join a Facebook group or engage with your nonprofit on
Twitter (for more information about the use of social media, see the chapter “Social Media for Nonprofits”).
Creating a Sense of Community
You can also create a sense of community at events by taking photos of your donors and their friends and sending
them photos or posting them on social media after the events. Creating volunteer opportunities for your donors and
board members can also make them feel like a part of your organization’s community; they may even have the
opportunity to engage directly with clients. Make sure all your organization’s staff are always friendly, courteous
and professional when engaging with donors and board members, whether it’s in person, over the phone or via email.

Keeping Donors Updated
Donors like to be updated on a regular basis, and nonprofits can do this by keeping in touch regularly. Emails,
newsletters (print and/or online), social media posts and annual reports are some of the ways to keep donors up to
date on your organization’s accomplishments and needs.

How often you’ll send out an email or newsletter will depend on your organization’s size, capacity and strategy,
but once a year simply isn’t enough in most cases. Many fundraising professionals recommend you have at least one
“touch point” with your major donors at least once a quarter;2 some recommend you reach out to your
donors and prospects in some way at least once a month.

With e-newsletters, you have the benefit of seeing who’s unsubscribing and who’s clicking on which links you
include. This can help you analyze the effectiveness of your newsletters’ content (for more information on software
you can use to help create robust newsletters and emails, see the chapter “Essential Software Your Nonprofit Needs to
Increase Donations
”). Donors also enjoy
hearing stories about the people or causes their donations have helped. Make sure these stories are compelling, and
include photos if possible.

Continue Asking Donors for Their Help
Donors want to feel appreciated and needed, and asking for their help contributes to these feelings. Nonprofits
need to ask people for donations more than once a year. Some organizations ask their donors for their donations
quarterly or even more frequently than that.

While a year-end appeal is important, and many donors like to give as part of their year-end holiday giving, some
donors prefer to give a gift at a different time of year or make multiple gifts throughout the year. A look at your
donors’ giving history and a carefully planned year-round fundraising strategy can help you decide how often to
solicit your donors.

Make Donors Feel Valued
The fundraising expert Tom Ahern says, “You have got to make your donors feel good in order to retain
them.”3 He suggests frequently using the word “you” rather than “we” when communicating with donors. For
example, a fundraising appeal should say “With your generosity, you helped construct a new building …” rather than
“Our capital campaign was a big success, and we thank everyone who donated.” Using the adjectives fair, kind,
compassionate, helpful, caring, friendly, generous, honest and hardworking have been shown to make donors feel
especially valued.

Even when you’re not asking them for money, you should still make your donors feel valued and assure them their
contributions have truly made a difference to your organization. You might even consider having an annual event to
thank donors or honor them. This is not a fundraising event, but strictly an event thanking everyone. It can be
simple (for instance, coffee and cookies, or wine and cheese), but your donors will feel appreciated.

By keeping your donors engaged, you’ll ensure that they remain loyal to your organization. Not only will they
become repeat donors, but they’ll also become ambassadors for your organization and encourage others to donate as

1 npENGAGE, “One Thing Most Nonprofits Stink at (Donor Retention) and How You Can Change It in 2017”

2 FrontRange Source, “Touch-Points: The Key to Your Donors’ Hearts”

3 The New York Times, “Asking for Money? Compliment the Donor, Not Your Organization”
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