Retaining your major donors

It’s well-known that retaining your existing donors is far more cost-effective and can yield greater results over the long-term than continually acquiring new donors. But how do you maintain donor loyalty so that they continue giving?

We look at ways to ensure your major donors stick by you for the long-haul and are invested in your cause.The best route to this? Developing a strong relationship from the outset. Major donors should be treated as long-term partners who share your passion for the cause, not merely sources of one-off donations. Build that relationship so it’s strong and healthy and not a one-way street for constant monetary requests.


Get to know your donors

Even before grants or donations are made, it’s vital to understand your donors – who are they, what do they want, what is their connection to your cause, how do they want to engage with you, what skills do they have? Ideally, you’ll look to develop a long-standing relationship from the outset, not once you’ve already received donations.

Ask donors about their wants and needs; pick up the phone, invite them to visit, conduct a digital survey, offer volunteering opportunities, and simply listen to them. This is particularly important when it comes to how they want to be involved with your cause. Some may want regular email updates, others to attend events, and others still who may not want to be contacted regularly, and that should be respected.

Build trust

When developing your relationship with new donors, building trust is imperative to moving beyond restricted or one-off donations and towards multi-year commitments.

The very best way to build trust is to simply be honest. Nothing ruins a relationship more than feeling like information is being held back or misrepresented. Be transparent when it comes to learnings; what went right, what didn’t, and what needs improving. The current pandemic has presented an opportunity for charities to be more open with their donors in terms of what they actually need, rather than what donors think they need. Some organisations may fear that having honest conversations might risk losing funding, but by being clear and honest you maintain integrity and don’t risk diluting your mission by running initiatives that donors want to fund but may not cut through to beneficiaries’ needs.

Practical ways to build trust in your organisation and its work include having plenty of accessible information available on your website and other channels, displaying your track record and impact reports, or even having a personal call with a donor to offer information and answer specific questions. Communicate your broader mission, aim and future plans so donors can see your impact as a whole and don’t focus on specific programmes.

Don’t avoid the issue of operational or overhead costs when talking about expenditure. Increased understanding of the costs involved in running a charity, whether that be staff, marketing, tech and equipment, or service provision, leads to increased trust and confidence. Read more about this issue from our recent webinar ‘Busting the Overhead Myth’.

Show them their impact

Honest, regular updates on how donors’ money is being used is a must. Of course, donors like to know their donations have made a difference, so ensure you build impact reporting in to your action plan. Learn more about writing a great impact report with our top tips.

Other ways to keep donors in the know on their impact are via newsletters, case studies, or even bringing them in to meet frontline staff to see your work first hand. Either way, your comms needs to demonstrate the impact donations are achieving.

One important thing to bear in mind is the idea of donors as investors rather than consumers. As a consumer, a donor may feel that they can ‘buy’ a certain outcome and restrict their donation to what they hope to achieve. By providing the wider picture of how impact relates to your organisation’s outcomes, mission and goals, donors may be inclined to think more as an investor supporting the entirety of your charity’s operations in the long-term.

Thank them

A simple thank you for a gift can go a long way. Is your thanking process optimised and timely? Is it personal and relevant? Does it reflect the size of the donation? There are many ways to thank donors; by email, post, phone, in-person, honouring their contribution publicly, but the one thing you should never do is to use the opportunity to ask for more money.

Ultimately, donors give to charity to make a difference to the beneficiaries or wider cause. The charity is simply the conduit through which change can be made. Therefore, an engaged donor and one who will stick around for the long-haul will be one who feels they are making a difference – and not necessarily purely financially. Therefore developing a strong relationship with your donors rather than seeing them as a source of money, is essential.