A 60-Day Donor Retention Plan

by Seth Rosen

Even the smallest organization can be top-notch at donor retention. Here is a 60-day plan to set up your new donors to become repeat givers.

Congratulations! You survived the end of the calendar year fundraising rush.

That’s no small feat, so please give yourself a pat on the back immediately.

I hope you (and your organization) recognize your dedication and hard work. But if no one else has told you this, allow me to say it: great job!

You’ve brought new dollars through the door and that’s huge. But I actually think you accomplished something even more important.

You brought in new donors.

Even a new donor that only makes a gift of $10 (or even less) is worth her weight in gold.


Because it’s much easier to get a previous donor to give again than it is to secure a new donor.

But that’s true only if you have a good donor retention strategy.

But what if you are an organization with limited staff? What if you don’t have a well-developed major gift or individual giving program?

Not to fear, even the smallest organization can be top-notch at donor retention.

With that in mind here is my four-step 60-day plan to keep your new donors happy and set them up to be repeat givers.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen first hand what happens when you don’t follow-up with new donors in a timely manner.

When I was a young DOD at an international relief agency I was involved in soliciting a major gift from a lovely couple that had a strong interest in our work. As with gifts of this size much went into educating the couple and closing the gift.

I wrongly believed we had been communicating frequently enough so it was several months before I contacted them again. When I did reach out to them again they were upset that I had not been in contact earlier, and it took months to repair the relationship. I hadn’t given enough thought to donor retention. I had to work extremely hard to regain their trust over the next several months, and I learned that ongoing communication is absolutely key. And this was with donors with whom I had strong initial relationship with. When a donor makes a gift without an initial relationship immediate communication is even more crucial!

Let me start with a question. How long do you think you have to cultivate a new donor? How much time can pass before you start nurturing the relationship?

Unfortunately, far too many fundraisers think they have a whole year to start. The consequence of this is that your new donors might not authentically hear from you for months.

Sure, they might get a newsletter or bulk update, but does that form a relationship with your organization?

No, not really.

Here’s a plan will cement your relationship with a new donor right away and put them on the track for an upgraded gift.

Step #1: Run Your List

Not that the end-of-year fundraising season has ended, its time to run your list of new donors. Subdivide it into two lists:

  • List One: Gifts that are considered ‘major’ for your organization or from a notable VIP.
  • List Two: Everyone else.

Once you have your two lists, review them carefully. If a gift has not yet been acknowledged, do that immediately. Trust me, some donors are already preparing their tax documents and are waiting for their receipts.

Here are some tips on how to get thank you notes for your thank you notes.

Step #2: Assign A Solicitor

A solicitor, or point person, is somebody within your organization that provides accountability and makes sure the right person is communicating with each donor. In my experience, this is critical for donor retention and a donor without an assigned solicitor can easily be lost in the work of a very busy development officer.

Take a look at list one above and assign your Executive Director, Director of Development, or a trusted Board Member as the solicitor. You want these major level donors to have communication from the top. If someone makes what your organization considers a major gift with their first gift, there is a strong chance the donor could make an even larger gift next time.

Donors on your second list can be managed by any member of your fundraising team. These donors aren’t any less important and they may very easily turn into major donors. But the truth is that if a new donor makes a major gift immediately, you must give them some extra VIP treatment from the start.

Step #3: Ask These Two Most Important Questions

Once you have generated your lists and assigned a solicitor, you must contact your new donors within the next 30 days. I prefer the next contact to be by phone, but email or even snail mail will do.

In the next contact you are going to do the following:

  • Say thank you
  • Ask the donor what drew them to your organization
  • Ask how they would like to be communicated with, and how often
  • Say thank you (again)

The information the solicitor gleans from these questions will provide you with incredible insight into the donor and your organization.

Why? Because you’ll find out:

  • How your mission is resonating with prospects
  • If your marketing materials are reaching people besides current donors
  • How to tailor your future communications and donor retention strategies

Step #4: Put The Information Into Your Database

Finally, make sure you put the information you learned into your donor database, and code each donor’s contact preferences accordingly.

When this simple four-step formula is applied and followed your new donors will feel listened to and you will have the information you need to steward your donors in a thoughtful way going forward.

What are your tips for retaining new donors? Please let me know in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.

4 thoughts on “A 60-Day Donor Retention Plan”

  1. We are wondering what we should do about new donors (we had quite a few at the end of the year) who asked that we not add them to our mailing list. Doesn’t that keep us from sending them anything besides the thank you letter/receipt? We are still calling them all to say thank you, but after that, aren’t our hands tied?

  2. Ally, thank you so much for your question and congratulations on the new donors! That is fantastic! My suggestion is that when you call to thank the donors ask them if it would be okay to send them an update in six months about how their gift is furthering the work of your organization. If they say yes just suppress them from other mailings until that update, and then after you send it call to check-in with them and ask if you can continue to update them on the work they are funding. I think donors worry that they will be bombarded with email but if you can demonstrate that you know the importance of their time, and are strategic with your communication, they will allow themselves to be contacted in the future. Just email me at seth@joangarry.com if I can be helpful with any other questions. And congrats again on the new donors!

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