With the average nonprofit retaining approximately 40 percent of donors annually, donor retention is a constant struggle for nonprofit organizations. While specifics may differ, all of those in development face a daunting task: how can an organization continue to raise funds while retaining only four out of every ten donors they acquire?

We spend a significant amount of staff time, energy, and financial resources acquiring new donors- so how can we get them to stick around –  and even become life-long advocates?

In a recent study, 250 nonprofits surveyed their donors to determine why they had remained loyal in their giving. From a list of 32 reasons, these were the top reasons chosen by survey respondents:

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission.
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
  3. Donor receives a timely thank you.
  4. Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known.
  5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause.
  6. Donor feels his or her involvement is appreciated.
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped.

What do all the reasons have in common? They are all related to communication.

Are you communicating effectively?

A smaller dedicated donor base can often be just as effective as a larger, less giving database. But this requires your organization to focus more on developing deep and meaningful donor relationships and that last long-term. This is easier said than done – but it starts with effective, authentic, and meaningful communication that resonates with the donor. You need to affirm their commitment to you by both heeding their interests and demonstrating the success of your mission.

Here are four steps to improve donor retention:

1. Align your fundraising with the objectives of the organization.

Evaluate your organization’s long-term strategy and set objectives and goals. For instance, if the organization requires $1 million dollars over the next 12 months for a special project, you need to work towards that objective and outline specific goals for fundraising – such as average gift, number of new donors, number of major gifts, retention rate, number of gifts per year, and so forth.

2. Develop a strategy around the objectives.

Based on the goals outlined above, you may strategically determine that you need to significantly up your game to achieve your objective. Create your strategy for forming more meaningful connections with your donors. With a stronger donor base that is committed and involved, you can reach your goals– whether higher retention, larger gifts, or increased gift frequency.

3. Review core messaging, especially the tone and voice.

This includes developing a better understanding of how donors experience your organization. Potential donors, new donors, and existing donors all may have different journeys, and each segment may need a nuanced message, tone and voice. Consider developing personas for each segment and framing your messaging and calls-to-action around those personas.

4. Determine the marketing mix and the tactics.

The fourth step is to develop your tactics. The tactics will take shape only after the previous steps are accomplished. There will be tons of work to do at this stage, but the key is to plan the tactics around the strategy and objectives. For instance, if you determined that you need to significantly increase your donor stewardship and nurturing efforts, you may decide to launch a highly-customized, high-touch personal approach. This will require people and resources to be shifted to personal donor visits, donor phone calls, handwritten communication, etc.

As the survey pointed out, communication is the common thread for donor satisfaction. Following our four steps to improve donor retention can help you strengthen and improve your communication. Through better messaging, improved targeting of that messaging, and a far better tactical execution and deployment of that messaging, you can form better connections with your donors.