Retaining and Gaining Donors

Posted by Molly Hetrick at 06/05/2023

by Molly Hetrick

Spring and Summer are a great time to connect with your current donors and attract new ones, because there are so many great programs and activities going on that you can share with them! Photos of your mission in action help donors feel connected, interested, and willing to support more of the good stuff they are seeing.

This is also the time where I hear people say “we need more donations!” or “we need to get more donors”. This is interesting and if you catch yourself with these words, let’s examine them.

“Need” usually means there is a project in the budget with no money to fund it, so someone decided it could be funded with donations. Then, the staff is stressed out and scrambling to figure out how – during the busiest part of the year – they are supposed to fund-raise tens of thousands of dollars to fund a needed project that is ready and waiting for the donations to cover it.

This leads to language that includes expectation and a sense of entitlement that donors should see the value and get busy with sending in their donations, which tends to skew the messaging in a way that actually repels donors. (They don’t owe you anything, which is why this is dangerous budgeting.)

Instead, let’s focus on the three important parts to fundraising for this year!

First, you have to do again this year what you did last year. In other words, hope that the stars align so that you can repeat last year’s fundraising success again this year. And then grow it.

But, we lose donors as well as gain them, so it’s a very delicate balancing act. And nothing – Nothing – is guaranteed.

The important thing to remember: it’s easier to keep the donors you have than to attract new ones. So, here are some things to start with:

1. Keep / Retain: Donors who gave so far this calendar year and during the last calendar year are your most important focus.
a. Have you communicated your thanks adequately?
b. Have you followed up in any way since? Newsletter, photo montage, update on the project they funded, invitation to come for a tour?
c. Consider an emotive photo with a hand-written note on the back to stay in touch.

2. Attract New: This is a source of growth for your fundraising and also a priority. Where are your close but yet not engaged groups of people?
a. Social media or newsletter lists who have not given?
b. People who have taken the time to complain about something they would like to see improved? (They took the time, there is potential there!)
c. Community groups or volunteers at the edges of your organization?

3. Re-engage lapsed: Donors who gave in the past 2-3 years but have not given since are worth taking a look at.
a. Do you know why they stopped giving? You can’t control the pandemic, the economy and the fact that their kids just went to college and needed a car. But, you can reconnect if they felt distanced, correct a misunderstanding if they felt disappointed with you, or show them other aspects of the mission that they may connect with.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Ask your board to help! Give them a list of program participants to divide up and send a personal note to. Either “we wanted you to know about this exciting program” or “we’re hoping the community will support this exciting initiative, will you join us?”
Give simple scripts and some training to your front line staff who interact with the public all day long. Be sure they have the tools they need to talk about the top 3 big projects, and how people can get involved.
Start capturing more email addresses at every single program and event you do all summer.
Communicate – short videos, easy to skim news stories (don’t burden yourself or them with long newsletters), or personal message emails.
Ask your staff to help – can they adopt a short list of 5 people to get to know and steward?
Ask for help! If you are not sure how to proceed or need help with messaging for an outreach direct mail campaign or need help to create segmented messaging for the different donor audiences, please reach out and ask for help.

Have a fantastic summer!