Donor Retention: Taking Care of “Your People”


The people on your donor and member lists are valuable assets. They actually support the good work your non-profit organization does.  One way or another, you acquired those names and addresses.  It may have been through events, acquisition mailings, inbound or outbound phone-a-thons, on-line, or out of the blue.

No matter how you acquired them, within the universe of all people in the world, the folks on your list are your people.  Be they active, inactive, or never active, they trump most any acquisition list. At least one point in time, they felt okay about giving you their money or their contact information.  To lose them can be costly. According to Non-Profit Quarterly, it costs ten times more to acquire a new customer or donor than it does to keep a current one.

In my work for Aria and our clients, I find that many non-profits are unwilling to invest enough in their people on their lists.  They send too-few renewal appeals via mail and email. They don’t use the telephone to renew donors, and they have too-few contacts with their lapsed donors. I’ve often thought that one thing that brings people to working at non-profits is their lack of interest in sales and marketing. Many development folks are missing the gene of persistence that is so necessary.

When I was a Development Director I had a renewal strategy that started the ninth month after the most recent membership gift, with an additional letter at month 10 and 11. At the time, I hired Aria to call those non-renewers month 12 ­– the anniversary month. I continued with letters month 13-15. While that was before our sustainer program had blossomed, we did well with that plan.  Interestingly, the response rate was about the same for the last three mailings in the series.  That extra persistence caused hundreds of people to renew! Times have changed, and the new media and technology applications for fundraising have grown significantly.  It has become more challenging to keep donors active.  Sustainer programs help a lot.  Aria’s tools of hand-addressed AriaCards and our courteous live phone calls (not robo-calls) can be  a real response booster to people who came to you on-line.

The bottom line: Treat your people right. Your donors and members are assets that require attention and ingenuity to keep active, or to reactivate.  The costs to keep bringing back donors can be high, but likely less costly than bringing on new people through acquisition mailings. At Aria, we know a thing or two about donor and member retention. Contact us today and let us help you avoid the pain that comes when you don’t retain.


Written by: Peter Wallace

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