Every fundraising practitioner knows the importance of acquiring new donors, but statistics show that just acquiring a donor is not enough to have a healthy, growing fundraising program. We also have to figure out how to keep them. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project Donor Retention Supplement found that only 25.4 percent of first-time donors gave a second gift within a year of that initial gift. Worst, for new donors giving less than $100 – very common since many donor acquisition programs are built around average gifts from first-time donors that are in the $25 to $35 range or even less – retention after one year is only 18 percent.

There is no simple formula for acquiring new donors that are going to stick with your nonprofit over time, but there are some steps you can take to increase the likelihood:

  1. Ask for a larger amount to begin with, and provide a solid reason why that amount is needed. It is common for the average gift to an acquisition effort to be close to the suggested gift amount, so start out asking for more. But don’t just toss out a larger number and hope it works; give your potential donors an explanation why that amount is needed. Break it into a tangible need they can solve with a gift, be that $40, $50 or “whatever you can give to help.” While you may acquire fewer donors, there is a better likelihood that the ones you do acquire will retain at a higher rate and have a higher likelihood of upgrading their gift size over time.
  2. Say “thank you” for every first-time gift, no matter the amount. When we treat donors poorly, it’s no wonder they, in turn, choose to ignore us. Our job is to make them feel so valued because they chose to give that they want to keep the good feelings coming by giving again … and again.
  3. Provide proof of how that first gift made a difference in a way that is easily accessible to the donor. For many of us, when we want to know something we just go online. But what if we don’t know yet that we want to know something? By arguing that everything our donors could ever want to know is on our website just waiting for them, we are forgetting one simple thing: many donors don’t yet care enough to seek out the information. We need to break through the noise of their everyday lives and hand them the proof that they made a difference – and that usually means postal mail because the very ubiquitousness of email makes it less capable of breaking through barriers of busy lives and communication overload.

Every donor we acquire is a valuable gem that we need to nurture and protect. Accepting that three of four – or worse – will never give again only deteriorates our fundraising program over time. We must turn that troubling statistic around, and in most cases simply continuing to do what we are doing now isn’t going to change the outcome.