Communication Is Key to Donor Retention, So Keep the Conversation Going


Donor retention is key to a successful fundraising program. Imagine how much more money you would raise if you had more donors renewing their gifts each year! Loyal donors who renew their support year after year are prime candidates for upgraded giving as well as planned giving, making them that much more valuable to your organization. So, what’s the secret to keeping them giving again and again? Nurturing the donor relationship with regular communication!

The industry standard for donor retention ranges from 55% to 65%. Even if your year-end appeal gets a stellar 15% response, if that is the only time you are asking them to give, that leaves 85% of your donors who did NOT give a gift. In order to retain 65% of your donors, you must mail during the year as well — and fairly often. If you send five or six mail (and email) appeals throughout the year, and get a 10% response each time, you would retain 60% of your donors in a 12-month period.

The more regularly you send fundraising appeals, the more likely you are to reach the benchmark.

The most effective direct response programs send mail and email appeals regularly throughout the year. These mailings are not just to raise money — but also to report back to the donor on the impact of their giving. They help further educate the donor about your programs and services, and the seniors you are helping.

And you never know when a donor may want to contribute. Sending appeals throughout the year allows a donor to give when it’s convenient for them.

You may be thinking “We don’t want to bother our donors that much!” But think about their mailbox. It’s very likely that they are already receiving fundraising appeals frequently — from groups they already support as well as from new groups. You want to make sure that your cause stays top of mind for your donors, so they think of you when they decide to give.

If you’re ready to map out a donor retention plan, here are four essential elements that are at the heart of every successful renewal campaign strategy for you to keep in mind:

1. Thank Your Donors.
It’s just good manners to thank your donors before you ask them to give again! A warm, simple thank-you in a renewal letter will go a long way towards making your donors feel special and will validate their decision to support your mission. Begin by letting them know how grateful you are, and how much you depend on their support.

2. Report Back.
Donors want to know how their dollars are being used. So, tell them! Tell your donors how their gifts have made a difference in the past. Tell them what your organization has been able to achieve thanks to their support. This not only helps further educate the donor about your programs, services, and the seniors you are helping, but it also helps bond them to your organization, creating loyal supporters who will support you long into the future.

3. Ask for a Gift!
Don’t be shy — be direct in asking for a contribution. You are offering your donors the opportunity to help seniors in your community, which their past giving shows they care about. Not only that, but if you aren’t out there in front of your donors asking, you can be assured someone else will be.

Our research shows that the typical Meals on Wheels donor supports an average of 19 charities! You can be certain they are hearing from all those other organizations.

4. Don’t Forget Best Practices!
In your direct mail package, make your letter look like a letter. You’re striving for an easy to read letter (use a font that is large enough for seniors to read easily), and make sure you use short paragraphs and a conversational tone.

Make sure the ask is positioned on the first page of the letter, and is repeated at the close of the letter, and again in the P.S. Research shows that the first thing a donor does after opening the envelope is turn the letter over to see who it is from, then right after that, they read the P.S. If the P.S. catches their interest, they will turn the letter over and read it from the beginning.

And in email, you’re striving for a short, easy to read message that has a clear call to action, and several links to give.

Your package overall should look professional but not fancy — you don’t want donors to think you’re spending their money on slick communications.

We all know it’s much less difficult (not to mention less expensive!) to retain, rather than replace, existing donors. These donors have already shown you they care about the work you’re doing through their past support. To keep your donors with you long-term, and deepen the relationship over time, keep the conversation going. Remind them how important their support is to the seniors you serve. Just like with any healthy relationship, it needs to be nurtured and regular communication is key.

If you’d like more information on best donor retention strategies through direct response mail or email, send us an email at and we’d be happy to help!