5 Ways to Enhance Your Membership Renewal Letter

5 Ways to Enhance Your Membership Renewal Letter


For nonprofits with membership programs, retention is everything. No matter how engaging or profitable your membership program is, if you can’t convince members to come back year after year, you’ll never achieve true progress or growth.

Luckily, there’s one oft-overlooked aspect of the member stewardship game that you can leverage to maximize your retention rates and supercharge your membership program. We’re talking about the ever-so-crucial membership renewal letter.

Though you might perceive these pesky communications as necessary evils, there is a way to ensure your renewal letters are more than just a requirement. They’re a way to engage your members and remind them of the value of the membership experience (while asking for a donation in the form of a membership fee).

In fact, if you follow our tips, you might even start to enjoy the renewal process—and more importantly, so will your members!

We’ll help you take your member renewal letters from okay to amazing in just 5 simple steps:

  1. Get personal.
  2. Take your members down memory lane.
  3. Understand the urgency.
  4. Stay gracious.
  5. Don’t forget the details.

Let’s begin!

Get personal

1. Get personal.

More than likely, you’ll utilize your membership management software to help you create and send large batches of renewal letters. Because these communications are often automated (or aided by your database), it’s easy to get lost in the transaction and forget to include a human touch.

Even though it’s an easy mistake, this error is more fatal than you might think!

For nonprofit organizations, your members are your most dedicated constituents. Not only do they give on a recurring basis and participate in engagement activities, but they set themselves apart by actually identifying themselves as part of your organization.

Since your members are so deeply invested in your nonprofit, it’s important to show the same level of respect and appreciation for them. By interacting with members in a personal way, you’re showing them that they’re not just a face in a crowd—they’re valued on an individual level! 

You should make your letter as personal as possible by including:

  • An accurate, friendly greeting. You should know your members well enough not to refer to them as “Dear Member,” so call them by their (correct!) first name. Use your database to ensure accuracy, and always double check to make sure the right letter is going to the right person.
  • A personable tone. This letter is more than just a formal invoice of members’ dues, so don’t fall into the trap of taking a transactional approach. Let your members know that you’re excited to have them contribute for another year, not just to receive their money!
  • A short handwritten note. If possible, have your membership director add a brief handwritten note to the end of the renewal letter. Especially if you’re a local organization or have interacted personally with this member before, adding a personal touch can go a long way.

When you use your member renewal letter as an opportunity to remind your members how much you care about them, you’ll be much more likely to see eager renewals.

The point is: Don’t treat your members like they’re nothing more than their membership fees. Show them you value them by crafting a letter that’s personal and friendly, and you’re sure to see your retention rates soar.

Take your members down memory lane

2. Take your members down memory lane.

Before you launch into a request, take a paragraph to remind your members how far their membership fees have gone to further your organization’s cause and enrich their lives since their last renewal.

Look at it this way: your members have other expenses too, and they likely can’t afford to shell out membership fees for an organization that hasn’t given them their money’s worth. If they can’t remember what last year’s dues paid for, they definitely won’t see the point in signing up for another go-round! 

To prevent that from happening, spend some time briefly recapping the value of their membership. If member stewardship has been a priority (and we hope that it has!), you’ll have no issue coming up with a highlight reel of all your membership program has done (and all your members have done for your membership program).

You might want to remind your members of any (or all) of the following:

  • Impact on your cause or community. Did you raise a record amount for your charity’s mission? Perhaps your members’ volunteer efforts had a radical effect on your community. Whatever the case, your nonprofit probably accomplished a lot last year with the help of your devoted members, so let them know you couldn’t do it without them.
  • Member engagement activities. One of the strongest benefits to membership programs is the community they naturally foster. Your events and programs have likely worked to develop a supportive group of like-minded individuals, so make sure this benefit is at the front of your members’ minds.
  • Services and opportunities. Does your membership program offer exclusive content or services for members? Don’t let them forget! Whether you had an educational speaker at your member get-together or hosted a conference, remind your donors how much your organization has helped them learn and grow this year.

You don’t want to spend too much time celebrating the past year’s successes (that’s what your year-end newsletter is for), but you do want to make your rationale clear: your members can’t get the experience of this membership program anywhere else!

The point is: Take some time to help your members recall the value of your membership program. By briefly going over the impact of your program, you’ll have no problem recruiting them for another year.

Understand the urgency

3. Understand the urgency.

As much fun as it is to rehash old times, you can’t avoid the purpose of your letter for long. By the second or third paragraph, it’s time to ask your members to renew their membership.

At this point in the letter, we can’t stress enough the importance of being to-the-point. If membership dues have increased since the last renewal period, tell your members directly. If you want to ask them to upgrade their membership level, quickly explain why and how. If you’re too vague, your members might think you’re hiding something from them, so just be clear from the start.

While you don’t want to be curt, you do want to stress that this is a matter best handled as soon as possible. When members feel they can put off their renewal for a later date, it increases the odds that they won’t ever get around to renewing—and you can’t let that happen! 

Encourage your members to act sooner rather than later by using the following strategies:

  • Include your application form. Take away the guesswork by including a link to your membership application, or a paper copy if your renewal letters are sent by mail. For the best results, make sure your form is user-friendly and well-designed. (Take a look at this article to learn how to optimize your application form!)
  • Make renewals easy. Membership management software can streamline the renewal process for both you and your members. Depending on your provider, you might even be able to include an automated renewal option on your application form or your website’s member portal.
  • Incentivize early renewal. If you’re having a hard time securing early or even on-time renewals, it might be time to up the ante. Though not realistic for every organization, providing benefits for those who take immediate action can seriously pay off. Consider offering a discount if members renew within two weeks of receiving their first renewal letter.

Don’t let your members lapse due to forgetfulness; convince them to secure another year’s involvement as soon as they receive their letter!

For more on requesting donations through letters, check out this post!

The point is: Get to the point quickly and make the pitch your members have been waiting for. Ask for their renewal in a direct, positive way, and make sure the renewal process is easy enough for them to complete on the spot.

Stay gracious

4. Stay gracious.

Remember the bottom line here: your members make your membership program possible. Without their contributions and involvement, you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, so show them your gratitude as you ask for their renewal.

Throughout your letter, write with a tone of respect and thankfulness. Don’t ever be demanding!

Moreover, you might consider the following thank-you protocol for both your letter and the follow-up:

  • Close your letter with sincerity. Gratefulness should be the last thing your members see in their member renewal letters. Don’t overdo it (and risk cheesiness), but do include a sincere line to reiterate how appreciative you are as you close your letter.
  • Keep communication open. By failing to include follow-up details for your organization, you’re assuming your members will renew without question. On the contrary, make sure they’re aware that your team is eager to answer any and all of their questions by providing relevant contact information, including a specific point person on your team.
  • Send a thank-you note. Instead of only automating an acknowledgement or receipt, you should send your member a personalized thank-you note as soon as possible. An email is fine, but a handwritten note from your membership director or a board member can reiterate your personal connection to your members.

Gratitude during the renewal period is a major step toward member retention in the long run. Start on the right foot this membership term by proving to your members how much you value them (and avoiding tricky membership engagement mistakes along the way).

The point is: You can’t thank your members enough for what they do for your organization, but you can certainly try! Be gracious throughout your letter and always follow up personally as soon as you can.

Don't forget the details

5. Don’t forget the details.

We can’t talk about effective membership renewal letters without discussing at least a few technical details!

The smallest elements can push your letter to the next level, so let’s break down a few key technical components you can’t ignore: 

  • Keep it concise. As you edit your letter with our tips in mind, you might see your letter growing and growing to include all the necessary elements. Keep in mind that your members are busy and don’t have time for long-winded letters! A page is plenty to get your message across, but definitely don’t got over a 2-page limit.
  • Be persistent. While we’ve only been referring to the membership renewal letter as a singular communication, don’t be fooled into thinking you can get away with sending only one request. Start sending renewal reminders as early as a few months before membership expiration. (Hint: your software can automate these reminders so you don’t have to keep up with them!)
  • Don’t forget lapsed members. Have some members who missed the renewal window? Don’t let them lapse without sending a final reminder. This can be a good time to provide incentives, especially for long-time members.

The point is: Don’t forget the minor details of your renewal letter, from timing to length. Be thoughtful as you review your letter, and your members will appreciate the attention to detail!

Member renewal letters don’t have to be a hassle, for you or your members. When you send a letter that’s engaging and sincere, your members will notice (and they’ll be excited to sign up for another year!).

Need a little extra help crafting your letter? Check out this guide from Neon!

And for more on membership programs, check out these additional resources:


Optimize your website for crowdfunding success with these 6 nonprofit web design tips.

The Top 6 Nonprofit Web Design Tips for Crowdfunding Campaigns


The ultimate goal of any nonprofit website is to convince supporters to take the desired action, whether that be signing up for an email newsletter, registering for a volunteer opportunity, or anything in between.

No matter what your goals, your website must be carefully structured and designed if your organization expects to reach the ideal outcome.

If that outcome happens to be increasing visibility and scoring more donations to your nonprofit’s crowdfunding campaign, you’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we’ll give you 6 tips that will help you design your website in a way that’s conducive to crowdfunding success, including:

  1. Make sure your donation page is easy to get to.
  2. Use your crowdfunding campaign to keep your website current.
  3. Pack an emotional punch.
  4. Standardize branding.
  5. Keep mobile in mind.
  6. Provide crowdfunding donors with other ways to get involved.

Let’s jump in!

Ensuring that your donation page is easy to get to will result in more online donations to your nonprofit, since donors can readily access your form.

1. Make sure your donation page is easy to get to.

Why it’s crucial:

Considering that crowdfunding relies on a large number of donors to be successful, campaign visibility and accessibility are arguably more important with crowdfunding campaigns than they are with other fundraisers.

To maximize donations to your campaign, your organization must make the giving experience as easy as possible on your donors.

If supporters have to search your website endlessly to find your crowdfunding page, chances are that they won’t even land on the donation form, nevertheless hit the “Submit” button.

Point is, a giving experience that is frustrating in any way is much more likely to be abandoned before the gift has been made, which won’t do much to further your crowdfunding campaign!

How it’s done:

If securing more donations to your crowdfunding campaign is your organization’s main website goal, treat it as the centerpiece!

The key here is to make your crowdfunding page as visible as possible (organically, of course). You should provide supporters with multiple pathways to access your campaign donation form.

For example, you might give supporters the option to access your page by:

  • Including a call-to-action and a link to your campaign page on your homepage.
  • Adding information about your crowdfunding campaign to your “Ways to Give” page.
  • Featuring a “Donate Now” button in your top navigation that specifically links out to your crowdfunding page.

Of course, this list certainly doesn’t cover all of the options. If there’s a natural opportunity to lead website visitors to your crowdfunding campaign donation form, then by all means, guide them!

To sum up: Ensuring that your navigation structure clearly points website visitors to your crowdfunding page will result in more donations to your campaign, since supporters will know exactly where to go to embark on the donation process.

Your crowdfunding campaign will provide your organization with plenty of updates that you can repurpose on your website to keep your content fresh.

2. Use your crowdfunding campaign to keep your website current.

Why it’s crucial:

Amidst a million other important efforts and concerns, in can be all-too-easy to forget to update your website… or to simply sweep updating under the rug.

However, updating your website is crucial to its effectiveness. You need to update regularly to reassure donors that your organization is still active and interested in keeping them in the loop with what’s going on at your nonprofit.

Furthermore, an out-of-date website can make your organization appear less credible. Think about it: have you ever landed on a business’ website that looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1999? You probably weren’t too inclined to believe that that company was up with the times and a current expert in their product or field.

Point is, regularly updating your website can be a difficult feat, but the potential ramifications of not updating can be even greater.

How it’s done:

Luckily, your crowdfunding campaign will give your organization plenty of material for updating your website!

As we’ve discussed in a previous post, it’s important to regularly give your supporters updates during your crowdfunding campaign. Doing so keeps them oriented with your progress and demonstrates the results of their contributions in a more tangible way, both of which lead to a more invested base of donors.

You can repurpose the updates from your crowdfunding campaign to generate new content for your website. For example, you could update your homepage daily to share current campaign progress or publish a series of news article to your blog about the positive work that crowdfunding donations have already made possible.

And those are only a couple of the possibilities! No matter how you choose to leverage them, crowdfunding updates give you the fodder you need to keep your website current.

To sum up: By using news from your crowdfunding campaign, updating your organization’s website on a regular basis will be much more manageable.

Adding emotionally-charged images and stories to your nonprofit's website can make it more compelling to your donors.

3. Pack an emotional punch.

Why it’s crucial:

People are often motivated to give charitably because nonprofit causes tug at their heartstrings in some way. In other words, supporting nonprofits is usually (at least in part) an emotionally-charged pursuit.

That being the case, organizations generally do better at engaging their supporters and convincing them to give when they make an emotional appeal as opposed to a logical one.

By packing an emotional punch with your content, chances are that your website will be more impactful to your donors—both when it comes to conveying your message and encouraging more donations. After all, it’s those visceral reactions that lead to impulse giving!

While designing your website around an emotional appeal won’t directly influence the success of your crowdfunding campaign, it can aid it indirectly. The more you can inspire donors with your cause and impassion them with your mission, the more likely they are to donate to your campaigns.

How it’s done:

Take a nod from your crowdfunding campaign page, and make sure to tell your story through words and photos on your website.

While you should do so throughout your site, appealing to your supporters’ emotions is especially important on your homepage. The very first impression your visitors will have of your website is the look and layout of your homepage, so it’s important to get your message across immediately.

Design your homepage around an emotionally-charged photo of your work or those you serve, and make sure to include a shortened version of your mission statement above the fold (the part of the webpage that visitors can see without scrolling).

As One Project, an organization committed to supporting secondary survivors of sexual assault, perfectly portrays their work in an emotionally compelling way on their homepage:

As One Project tugs at their website visitors' heartstrings with a photo that illustrates their cause and a mission statement that captures their work.

To sum up: Nonprofit work is emotional by nature. Increase the chances that website visitors will be swayed by your cause by using compelling stories and images to pack an emotional punch, particularly on your homepage.

Standardizing branding throughout your nonprofit website ensures that donors always feel secure when browsing your site.

4. Standardize branding.

Why it’s crucial:

As all nonprofits know, building trust is key to securing donations. This is especially true for online donations, which are more impersonal since there’s no aspect of face-to-face interaction to help donors feel secure.

If your organization wants to maximize the number of online donations received (and we’re assuming you do!), you must do everything in your power to make your website appear as trustworthy as possible to your donors.

Standardizing branding across your website is one of the most straightforward ways to do just that.

By keeping branding consistent across the board, it becomes a seal of trust. When donors see your look and logo across all pages of your website, they’ll be consistently reminded that they’re investing in a credible cause they care about.

How it’s done:

All pages of your website should have the same look and feel, derived from your logo.

Before you start designing, consider creating a style guide that outlines all design standards. Here are just a few of the many things you’ll probably want to think about:

  • Color scheme. Color schemes should be based off of your logo and include no more than 5-6 colors. There should be 2-3 main colors (brights) as well as an array of neutrals to complement them.
  • Color usage. Beyond simply having a scheme to work with, you should determine which elements will appear in which colors. For example, what colors will donation buttons and other CTAs be? Hyperlinks?
  • Font. Use one font throughout your website, and stick with it. When selecting a font, keep in mind that sans serif fonts are more legible on screens.
  • Images. What types of images will your organization use on your website? Should images be shaped, sized, or formatted in a particular way? Where will images be sourced from? Do you need to secure any permissions? These questions all need to be answered in your style guide!

If you’re working with a web design firm, they should create a style guide for you and design your website around it. If you’re opting to construct your website yourself using a website builder, you should set all defaults in the theme to be consistent with style guidelines.

Important: don’t forget to brand your crowdfunding campaign page, too! Considering that donors are submitting their sensitive information there, they’ll feel much more comfortable giving when your form clearly reflects your organization.

To sum up: Clear and consistent branding across your website builds trust, because donors can be certain that they’re supporting a credible nonprofit.

Now that most donors approach websites from their smartphones, it's of the utmost importance to create a mobile-responsive website that provides them with the best possible experience.

5. Keep mobile in mind.

Why it’s crucial:

Now that mobile phones are so advanced, more and more people are using them to browse the web on the go.

In fact, it’s been estimated that a majority of browsers are now visiting nonprofit websites from mobile devices. The problem is that many nonprofits haven’t yet caught up with the times and optimized their websites (including their donation pages) for mobile users.

It might not seem like a deal breaker at first, but a website that isn’t mobile-responsive can cause your crowdfunding donations (and online contributions in general) to take a hit. Websites that aren’t mobile-friendly aren’t user-friendly, so mobile donors are much more likely to become frustrated and leave the site before submitting their donations.

Think about it: wouldn’t you be much less inclined to give if you had to zoom and pinch your screen, scroll up, down, left, and right, and fill out a bunch of tiny, illegible boxes to make a donation?

How it’s done:

How you build a mobile-responsive website will be dependent on how your nonprofit is approaching web design.

If you’re…

  • Designing your website yourself, the website builder that your organization is using should use a responsive design framework that automatically conforms your site to the device it’s being viewed on. However, just because you have this feature doesn’t necessarily mean that your site will translate well to mobile, so be sure to keep mobile in mind as you’re designing.
  • Working with a web design firm, make sure to select a firm who offers mobile-responsive design. Most firms should offer this service now that mobile is so prevalent, but it can’t hurt to double-check!

Remember: the best way to tell if your site is actually mobile-responsive is to test it out for yourself. Take out your smartphone and try donating to your crowdfunding campaign!

To sum up: Mobile-responsive websites provide mobile donors with the best possible user experience. When donating to your crowdfunding campaign is easy, donors will be much more likely to follow through!

By offering your crowdfunding donors other ways to engage with your organization throughout your website, your nonprofit will build a base of more invested donors.

6. Provide crowdfunding donors with other ways to get involved.

Why it’s crucial:

Crowdfunding campaigns can really give your donor acquisition a boost. These campaigns require widespread sharing and are low-stakes for donors, so they’re the ideal opportunity to recruit a lot of new donors to your cause.

In order to transform one-time crowdfunding donors into donors who give again and again, it’s crucial to actively continue building relationships with them. One of the best ways to do that through your website is by offering supporters other opportunities to get involved with your organization!

Not to mention, some supporters who land on your website might want to support your organization, but might not be ready to make a monetary gift. By providing a variety of engagement opportunities on your website, you can win the support of people with a variety of preferences.

How it’s done:

Post-donation engagement opportunities don’t even have to be limited to your acknowledgement page! In fact, they should be incorporated throughout your website.

The key is to match up your webpages with relevant opportunities. Some opportunities might be relevant across the board (for example, an email newsletter subscription box might remain at the bottom of the site on every page), while others would be very specific to certain pages (for example, the opportunity to volunteer for an event might only be limited to a dedicated volunteer information page).

No matter where you place them, all opportunities should be framed as calls-to-action (CTAs). Use short, clear, and actionable language to ensure that donors will understand exactly what you’re requesting.

With the right CTAs, who knows? That supporter who came only intending to give $5 to your crowdfunding campaign might be transformed into a lifelong volunteer!

To sum up: Including other engagement opportunities around your website actively continues the conversation both before and after crowdfunding campaign donors have given. With a wealth of thoughtful engagement opportunities backing you up, you should have a larger base of recurring donors to rely on for your next campaign!

Your nonprofit’s website strategy can greatly influence how much money you’re able to raise during your crowdfunding campaign. With these 6 tips, your website should be conducive to crowdfunding success.

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Get Your Data in Order with a Nonprofit CRM

Demystifying Nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management Systems

What is a CRM you ask?

A CRM is a customer relationship management system, or for nonprofits, a constituent relationship management system.

Asked and answered. Get it now? Probably not.

Maybe you know about CRMs in terms of the corporate world, but don’t understand how they translate to the nonprofit sector.

Maybe you are entirely new to the whole concept and have no sense of what CRMs do.

Either way, worry not. You are in the right place!

From providing a working definition to detailing who uses CRMs, the aim here is to supply you with a solid foundation of knowledge on these systems, so you can be well-equipped to determine if a CRM is needed in your near fundraising future.

Definition of a Nonprofit CRM

Let’s backtrack a moment and discuss the breakdown of CRM initials that I mentioned earlier.

The ‘R’ and the ‘M’ always stand for relationship management.

The ‘C’ is where things will vary. In the commercial sector the ‘C’ represents customer because the company using the CRM is tracking data for people it provides goods and services for.

Nonprofits don’t provide goods and services, but rather garner support (from volunteers, donors, board members, etc.) in order to serve a cause or execute a philanthropic mission. Due to this, the ‘C’ in nonprofit CRMs stands for constituents. Any supporter or receiver of the nonprofit’s service is considered a constituent in a CRM system.

Let’s take a closer look at what a CRM actually is and does.

CRMs can be thought of as one of two options:

  1. a software
  2. a system

Option A: CRM as a software

When people say CRM software, they’re describing a singular, central software entity that stores, manages, and reports on all organizational data.

Does it sound too good to be true? That’s because it is.

A smaller organization may be able to get away with using one type of software with no outside tools, but that is not realistic for a larger nonprofit.

The correlation is simple. As a nonprofit grows, so too do its CRM needs.

A nonprofit that is constantly looking to acquire new donors, as well as upping its donor retention rates, won’t be satisfied with a one-dimensional CRM solution.

Which brings us to…

Option B: CRM as a system

This option takes the software and builds on it, adding on and increasing functionality.

Think about it this way. A single person buys a 2-bedroom home. This is plenty of space for her, she has a bedroom and a home-office. Two years later, she gets married. The space starts to feel smaller. Three years pass and she’s just had twins. The family has outgrown the space.

Instead of moving, since the house’s lot is big enough, the family has an addition built. Without having to handle a big move, the family’s house has evolved to their needs.

A CRM system can adapt and evolve to an organization’s needs, whereas a software is stuck in 2-bedroom house territory.

The system is a combination of numerous software that coordinates together to manage nonprofit data and fulfill organizational needs. A CRM system will include the baseline software as well as integrations and various other support tools.

The phrase ‘nonprofit data’ might seem vague, so let’s delve further into that while we discuss CRM function.

How does a CRM function in an organization?

A nonprofit CRM system should hold data on all constituents, including:

  • donors
  • volunteers
  • staff
  • board members
  • business affiliates
  • vendors
  • service recipients
  • event attendees

The details you acquire on each of these constituent types is going to vary depending on circumstance and depth of any existing interactions.

Generally speaking, a nonprofit donor database should have the following details stored and tracked:

  • donations
  • basic personal information on constituents (name, phone number, email, address)
  • volunteer hours
  • constituent communications notes
  • records on constituent past involvement with the organization

A nonprofit CRM will not only hold all of that data, but it puts it to good use.

Database capabilities are not standard across the industry, but many provide communication portals, donation tracking, event management, and much more. 

It is important to remember that not all CRMs allow for unlimited team access, some only offer a set number of seats. If you’re looking at a constituent management system that does not offer unlimited seats, you’ll have to determine how many employees need access and make sure that number at a minimum is met.

Keep in mind, that’s just one of the many questions you’ll have to address when looking to buy a CRM.

What organizations use a constituent relationship management system?

Briefly put, most organizations use one.

Even those organizations that don’t have a CRM explicitly, have to have some sort of data tracking system in place, like an excel sheet.

When nonprofits outgrow the excel sheet, they make the switch to CRMs.

Constituent relationship management software is used by nonprofits of varying sizes and types, such as:

Essentially, if you have a pool of donors, volunteers, and general supporters that you need to keep track of and effectively coordinate communications with, it is crucial to have a good nonprofit CRM in place. 

Commonly Used CRM terms

The terms constituent, software, and system have already been discussed at length, but there are a few more phrases that commonly arise in conversations surrounding CRMs that you should know.

  1. Donor Database — This is a blanket term that refers to a central location where all pertinent donor information is stored. A donor database can be anything from an excel sheet to a high-quality CRM.
  2. Campaign Creation — A CRM can help run a fundraising campaign from start to finish. It can start by sending out the emails and then conclude by automating the acknowledgments.
  3. Report Generation — Transparency is a nonprofit necessity. A CRM will efficiently create accurate reports for nonprofits to show donors, board members, the government, etc.

The second and third terms are part of CRMs’ overall capabilities.

Read our CRM guide to learn more. 

Nonprofit employees are perpetually busy, with responsibilities spread far and wide. Funding, time, and energy are all diminishing resources. A well-run nonprofit CRM is a game-changing tool. It can carry much of your staff’s busy work and then some, so that your team is freed up to carry out your organization’s mission.

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Keep Donors Who Join Your Network

Your Secret to Mindblowing Fundraising – Improve Donor Retention Just 10%

NonProfitEasy’s blog is dedicated to covering nonprofit CRMs and the fundraising topics surrounding them. From time to time, we like to bring in a fresh perspective for our valuable readership. So, we reached out to Claire Axelrad, Principal of Clairification, for some new insights. 


Imagine what it would mean to your mission if you doubled the lifetime value of all of your current supporters.

Do you know even know what percentage of donors you’re retaining? According to one source, less than 5% of fundraising offices know this answer!  So, you’re not alone.  But you can do better.

Knowing your retention rate enables you to move it to something better.  Did you know that a 10% increase in donor retention can increase the lifetime value (in dollars) of your donors by as much as 200%? This is research from Dr. Adrian Sargeant… plus Penelope Burk revealed this years ago in her groundbreaking “Donor-Centered Fundraising.”

Lifetime value means donor commitment.  Your donor’s enduring passion for your cause.  And you’ve got to inspire folks to get them to become loyal supporters.

What are you doing to inspire? Attrition rates are sky high.

Say you brought in 1000 new donors last year.  Sounds good, no? But… those 1,000 will shrink to 400 this year. And to 160 in the next year. After five years you’ve got only 10 folks left.  I’m NOT KIDDING!  You’re on a treadmill. In and out. In and out.

Attrition is getting worse and worse.  AFP and The Urban Institute study revealed the depressing data.  After reviewing millions of records in thousands of databases, they found that average donor retention was 39%. So, yes, attrition was 61%.

Do you have a donor retention program?  A donor retention budget?

If not, be afraid. Be very afraid.  And use your fear to scare your leadership straight!  Show them the data.  Share the study with them.

If you’re not adding resources to build relationships with your donors – and keep them over time – you’re being pound wise and penny foolish.

Here’s a simple way to calculate your donor retention:

How many donors did you have in 2012?

How many of the exact same donors donated again in 2013?

What % of your previous year’s donors were retained?

Anything over 50% is excellent these days. So pat yourself on the back! If it’s less, don’t be surprised.  And know that wherever you’re at, you can improve if you put in place an intentional donor retention plan.

Here’s a way to calculate lifetime value:

This is the total net contribution a donor generates during their total giving to you, over their lifetime.  You must know the average number of years your donors stay with you, plus the average gift amount (for most organizations the average gift is between $100 – $200).  And the average number of years of giving from the thousands of organizations surveyed by AFP and The Urban Institute is 1.9 years.

Whoa!  Wouldn’t you like those folks you acquire through direct mail or online to stay with you longer than that?

If you’re like most nonprofits, you’re spending the lion’s share of your time acquiring new donors. And they don’t stay longer than two years. Treadmill city! It’s exhausting… no wonder you’re so tired.

If your retention is not what you’d wish it to be, take a look at your donor acknowledgment program  The easiest thing for you to do is develop a culture of gratitude.  Make this an institution-wide culture.

Your second gift is so much more valuable than the first one.

You need a second gift strategy.

  • You need a donor welcome package.
  • You need to pick up the phone and thank.
  • You need to send a hand-written note.
  • You need to get first-time donors engaged with you in other ways.
  • You need to reinforce the decision they made and show them the impact of their giving.

You need a donor relationship strategy.

  • You need effective donor communications that tell inspiring stories.
  • You need to always think from your donor’s perspective.
  • You need to use digital marketing and peer-to-peer tools.
  • You need integrated marketing and fundraising plans.
  • You need a comprehensive stewardship strategy.
  • You need to connect with donors frequently.
  • You need to use the word “YOU” a lot.
  • You need to ask donors about their preferences.

You need a robust gratitude program:

  • You need to be prompt – thank within 48 hours.
  • You need to be personal – no ‘form’ letters – people build relationships with other people; not with organizations.
  • You need to change your thank you letter frequently.
  • You need different thank you letters for different campaigns.
  • You need different thank you letters for different donor segments.
  • You need to thank more than once, preferably from different people.

You need to treat all donors – offline and online – equally.

Someone who happens to give online is not worth less to you than someone who gives through the mail.  Don’t have a two-class thank you system.  The immediate email thank you is great, but it’s not enough.

Do you know why donors leave you?

Find out.  The number one reason retail customers leave is lack of interest by the business in them. (this was followed, in this order, by death, relocation, won over by competitor and handling of complaints).  What are you doing to show interest in your donors?

The primary reasons that donors leave are related to poor communication on the part of the nonprofit: no memory of ever supporting you; asked for inappropriate sum; feeling other causes are more deserving; not reminded to give again and weren’t informed about how the gift was used.

If you want to build loyalty, you’ve got to build relationships. Loyalty is also important because your repeat donors are the ones who make legacy gifts.  And legacy gifts are major gifts.  Having them can make a HUGE difference to your bottom line. (in fact, anyone who lets you know they’ve moved is 10 times more likely to leave you a legacy gift – are you capturing this information?).

Be a better friend.

Find out more about your donor. Learn what they like. Be open and receptive. Respond when they reach out to you.  Listen for cues. Be helpful. Show them their impact. Show them that you know themBe personal.

A strong donor retention program is going to rely on proper nonprofit CRM management. Check out our list below to make sure your organization is on the right track.

Click here to download our free fundraising software checklist.

This article was originally posted on the Clairification blog.

Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of Clairification. A sought-after coach and consultant, Claire writes monthly columns for Nonprofit Pro and Maximize Social Business. Clairification was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine. A member of the California State Bar and a graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco, California. Contact Claire via her blog or connect with her on TwitterPinterest or LinkedIn.

Claire Axelrad Headshot Claire Axelrad, Principal of Clairification