How to Boost Online Donor Retention

Your nonprofit’s donor retention rate is the percentage of donors who give from year to year, or over any other specific time period. It’s probably one of the most critical metrics you should be studying in 2021. 

Your ability to retain donors and keep them engaged can directly impact your nonprofit for a few reasons:

  • Retained donors can be more easily guided towards making larger gifts in the future.
  • Building a solid base of retained support that already feels connected to your mission is essential. Acquiring new donors through constant outreach is much more expensive over time.
  • With concrete retention strategies, you can make the most of increases in new donors. This is especially relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 year-end giving season (which is shaping up to be a big one).

Whether you’re looking to revamp your existing approach or start from scratch, we’ve got you covered. Here are the essentials to keep in mind when building or updating your nonprofit’s donor retention strategy.

Use integrated software whenever possible.

Software integrations allow your various platforms to freely share data as needed. Integrations from your donor-facing tools to your central database are especially important, as more comprehensive and easy-to-analyze data is invaluable for strengthening your retention efforts.

Your donation software and marketing platforms are the key places to focus on when it comes to database integrations. 

Properly configured, these integrations will ensure that all incoming donation and engagement data is properly associated with the right donors, campaigns, and/or marketing sources. This is an essential foundation for strategic retention, as smarter data makes it easier to identify problem areas where donors might be slipping away.

Start tracking your retention rates.

To improve your retention rate over time, you first have to track it! With incoming data properly reported with accurate dates and associated donors, campaigns, and sources, you should be able to easily calculate retention rates across time periods within your CRM.

Immediately begin looking for big-picture trends. Consider the various virtual and online-only fundraising ideas you’ve rolled out in 2020 and answer these questions:

  • How many donors did you retain from one campaign or virtual event to the next? 
  • Which types of campaigns or events saw the highest retention rates?
  • Which types saw the fewest donors return to give over time?

Understanding these trends can quickly show you how effectively you’re currently retaining donors as well as which tactics do and don’t help in the process. If one campaign or event saw especially high donor retention, plan to do it again!

Dig deeper into trends and sources.

Once you’ve begun tracking your retention rates and identified big-picture trends, it’s time to dig deeper. Correlate your retention data and initial insights with the specific marketing sources or campaign strategies that contributed to them. 

These could include anything from the number of direct mail recipients who you retained from one letter-writing campaign to the next, to the rate at which donors acquired through Google Grant advertising choose to stick around over time. The exact areas you choose to investigate will vary based on the particular outlets and engagement strategies that you’ve employed during that specific time period. The main goal is to answer questions like:

  • Which specific engagement or marketing strategies in your campaigns or events generated higher retention rates?
  • Do donors acquired through particular marketing sources stay engaged at higher or lower rates?
  • If a campaign or event saw poor retention, which strategies might have contributed to that shortfall?

Create an action plan.

As you learn more about how many donors you’ve retained, and why, you can begin outlining actionable ways to both capitalize on those trends and address shortcomings. 

For example, if your retention rate is higher among donors who gave through email appeals, look for ways to funnel more donors towards engaging with you via email. If you retain few donors through social media sources, take a new approach to make a more memorable impression with peer-to-peer tactics or stronger content.

Actively tracking your retention is important beyond campaign-to-campaign considerations, too. Use this data to inform your overall fundraising strategy for the year. For instance, are you pursuing more major gifts in 2021? Start your donor prospecting process by looking for individuals whose support you’ve retained for a long time or who show signs of becoming a highly-engaged, long-lasting supporter.

As the nonprofit sector continues adapting to the challenges of the virtual fundraising era, having a solid base of retained support on your side will be more valuable than ever before. If your approach to donor retention could use a refresh (or if you’ve never had time to give it much thought before), now is definitely the time.

Remember, donor retention is an ongoing process, not a one-time strategy update. By using integrated tools, actively tracking the metrics you’ll need, and knowing where to dig deeper, you can build a sustainable retention strategy that delivers increasing value over the long run.


Ryan Ozimek

As the founder of a software company serving the public sector, Ryan passionate about empowering organizations to “do good”. With a focus on effective and efficient technology solutions, he's constantly looking for ways in which the Internet can better serve the greater good, and more specifically the non-profit sector. He leads up the Soapbox Engage team in our pursuit of affordable and accidental techie-friendly online engagement software, is a Salesforce MVP, and leads the NPSP Days around the world. Ryan has a bachelor’s degree in communications from UCLA, and a masters of public policy from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs. He’s also a fan of burritos, so if you have any tips to finding the best taqueria in the world, let him know.

November 26, 2020

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