Kurt Worrell, SVP Donor Engagement Team  ●  1/8/2019

What Fundraisers Can Do Today to Retain Holiday Donors

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As a child, my parents instilled in me how important it is to say “please” and “thank you.” It simply became second nature — as it should for fundraisers, as well.

We fundraisers are all just catching our breath from our busiest time of year. We have spent months thoughtfully designing appeals, executing multichannel campaigns, acquiring new donors, and inviting old friends back into our donor families. We spent hours creating and debating the best way to say “please” in a personal and impactful way.

Now it’s time to put that same amount of thoughtfulness and effort into saying thank you.

Saying thank you to all donors needs to be a critical part of your mission. It deserves the same thought and effort we put into our appeals because good donor stewardship can significantly improve donor retention and shorten the length of time until next gift.


Here are 3 ways you can build strong donor retention and capitalize on your holiday fundraising successes.


1. Thank your donors with time-tested strategies.

Thank-you notes are the most common way we acknowledge our donors’ generosity. Your thank-yous can be powerfully effective by:

  • Making it personal. Heartfelt words are a great start, but make sure to increase the authenticity factor by acknowledging the gift amount and using handwriting throughout the note and in the signature. 
  • Telling your donor what their generosity enabled. This is important for two reasons: It specifies how the donor made a difference and helps them feel more invested in the mission, and it extends the “glow” donors feel in their hearts when they give.
  • Making it timely. Send your thank-you notes once a week to quickly thank all donors for their gifts.
  • Being concise. A couple of short paragraphs is sufficient for a thank-you note. You do not need to restate your case for support or deliver newsletter-type content.
  • Not asking for anything. Sometimes we try to justify the expense of a thank-you note by including a survey — or worse yet — a subtle ask. This defeats the purpose of the note. Don’t be tempted.


2. Incorporate the telephone channel into your donor stewardship.

Thank-you calls are also a great way to personally connect with your donors. A two-way conversation is a tremendous way to show gratitude to your donors and learn more about their preferences and intent . A thank-you call without an ask also introduces the donor to the phone as a potential channel in the future. Here are a few tips for making stewardship calls:

  • Just like with notes, tell the donor about what their gift enabled.
  • Ask your donors what motivated their gifts and what is most important to them about your mission or programs. Capture this information to inform personal donor preferences and understand trends to inform future appeals.
  • Again, make it timely. This needs to be a regular part of your process, not occasional.
  • As mentioned, phone calls provide an opportunity to capture donor preferences. However, don’t ask a donor about the channels they want to communicate through and/or the frequency they want to hear from you unless you are prepared to manage those preferences in your fundraising processes.


3. Welcome new donors. It's worth the extra effort!

We spend a tremendous amount of resources acquiring new donors. That is why it makes sense to go the extra step of welcoming a new donor properly.

Regardless of channel, create a communication designed to welcome them into your donor family, reiterate how important their gift was, and show gratitude for their generosity. All of the principles of thank-you notes and calls apply here, but with the added goal of acknowledging and welcoming your new donor to you organization.

Take the extra time, effort, and (of course) expense to show your new donors love, and they will love you back


Now is the time to implement a comprehensive, personal, and systematic thank-you process into your program. If you need help deploying a strategy please don’t hesitate to contact us.


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