Brewer Direct

Retention rates got you down?

Here are 3 simple steps to retention success

Retention rates got you down?

From Shellie Speer, Senior VP/Brewer Academy, BDI


As a fundraiser, you work hard to acquire new donors. Losing them is always difficult. But watching them drop off your file within 24 to 48 months is especially frustrating… and expensive.

The most recent report by the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) tabulates donor retention rates at around 64%, with new donor retention rates way lower at 31.8%. Overall, retention rates are around 45%. A majority of donors become lapsed in their support in just a few years.

If you’re hoping to reactivate those lapsed donors, the outlook is bleak as well. According to the FEP study, reactivation rates were around 5% and declined for 5 consecutive years.

So you might be wondering, “Well Shellie… what’s a fundraiser to do in the face of all these discouraging retention numbers?” My recommendation is simple:

Focus on welcoming new supporters into your fold so they keep giving year after year.


There’s nothing more powerful than saying “thank you” – and as quickly as possible. In fact, studies show that first timers who are thanked within 48 hours are 4x more likely to give again.

Yet, many nonprofits work so hard on acquiring donors that they forget about what comes next. But to retain them, it’s key to keep their passion alive – the passion that led them to give in the first place. And the first step is extending a warm, personal thank you to them.


The feelings that motivated a new donor to give in the first place can fade quickly. Or they may feel as though by giving one gift, they’ve already done their part.

A welcome – either in the mail or online – is a great way to broaden, deepen and expand donors’ understanding of your ministry; illustrate their gifts’ vital role in your work; and introduce them to your organization’s ongoing needs.

A welcome could be a series of emails or letters, or just one. It could include more details about your outreach, a call to volunteer or an invitation to take a tour. It could include a gift or premium connected to your organization or mission. A survey is also a great way to tell new donors you want to know what THEY think.

In short, how you welcome donors is up to you; but the goal is to connect them closely to your cause and rekindle the feelings that led to their initial gift. Once you build the relationship, the more likely first-time donors will be to give repeat gifts.


Sharing success stories through a newsletter, e-newsletter and direct mail multiple times throughout the year is an effective way to show new donors how their gift is being put to work and the impact it is having. It can also illustrate the need for ongoing support.

Simply put, make the donor your hero! When they know their contribution made a difference, they’re more likely to feel an affinity with your organization… and to know you’re not just interested in their money. That assurance and trust often leads them to making a second gift the next time you ask.

Remember, as you connect first-time donors to your work and they see the impact of their giving, their hearts are opened again and again to release generosity. And if you continue to cultivate these relationships, you just may defy the stats when it comes to donor retention. 


Shellie Speer, Senior Vice President/Brewer Academy


Want more? For this month’s “Need to Read” from MT on forming strategic Corporate Partnerships, click here.

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