Brewer Direct

Defy Retention Rates with Successful Second Gift Strategies

3 simple ways to retain new donors and get that all-important second gift

Defy Retention Rates with Successful Second Gift Strategies

From Shellie Speer, Executive VP Client Strategic Development, Brewer Direct


As a fundraiser, you work hard to acquire donors. Losing them is always hard. But losing them within 24-48 months is especially frustrating… and expensive.

We know that, according to the recent 2018 Charitable Giving Report, charitable giving in the United States is up by 1.5% overall. That’s very good news for fundraisers!

But what about retention rates?

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP), retention rates are… well, not great.

As of 2017, FEP reported that donor retention rates were around 64%, while new donor retention rates were way lower at 31.8%. Overall, retention rates are around 45%. That’s less than half! A majority of donors become lapsed in their support in just a few years.

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

Adrian Sargeant, Professor and Director of the Philanthropy Center Ltd. in the U.K., sums it up as follows:

“The donor retention landscape is actually lousy at the moment and is going of all accounts, from bad to worse. The latest round of AFP data that came out made for very depressing reading. We’re continuing to lose donors at a pretty alarming rate.

Over 70% of people that we recruit into organizations never come back and make another gift, so we’re caught on this treadmill where we have to spend lots of money on acquisition, which most nonprofits lose money on anyway, just to stand still.”

I’ve depressed you, huh? I bet you’re wondering, “Well Shellie… what’s a fundraiser to do in the face of all these bummer retention numbers?”

Well… let’s focus on welcoming new supporters into your fold so they keep giving year after year.

Why do people become donors in the first place? According to most surveys, donors give because they want to be part of the solution to a problem. The services and/or programs you provide are the solution. By supporting your work, they feel part of the solution to the problem.

One of the biggest reasons donors say they never give again is communication… or more accurately, a lack thereof. When someone gives for the first time, what happens next? Do you have a plan? Or do you just hope that your organization’s mission is compelling enough that they’ll support you again?

Donors are not retained on a wing and a prayer. It’s so vitally important that you communicate with them several times after their initial gift in a strategic, organized way. As fundraiser and blogger Jeff Brooks notes, “The profitability of fundraising starts when donors give repeat gifts and… the most valuable donors are those who give their second gift within 3 months.”

But just asking for money won’t get it done. You have to build your relationship with each new donor and draw them into your organization’s fold. And I have 3 simple ways to do just that…

1. Thank them quickly
2. Follow-up with a welcome
3. Report back on outcomes



As I’ve said before, there’s nothing more powerful than saying “thank you”! When it comes to new donors, the prevailing wisdom is to thank them as quickly as possible. In fact, studies show that first timers who get a thank you within 48 hours are 4x more likely to give again.

Fundraising expert Tom Ahern puts it this way: “Yes, thanking in 48 hours equals a 400% improvement in renewal rates.”

Whether it’s a letter, an email or a call, a thank you is incredibly important to retain those first-time donors. Many nonprofits work so hard on acquiring donors that they forget about what comes next. But to retain them, it’s key to keep that passion alive, the passion that led them to give in the first place – and the first step is sending a warm, personal thank you.

As Jeff Brooks notes, “You should really work to cement the relationship with first-time donors. Thank them quickly and well. Welcome them. Ask them again. And do this all right away!”


There are many reasons why people give, but when you get right down to it, people give because they feel moved. The trouble is, feelings can fade… fast! And a new donor may quickly forget the feelings that prompted them to give in the first place. 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 introduce them to your organization’s ongoing needs and the ways in which their support makes a huge difference.

We’ve written on the importance of developing a welcome series before. To recap, it’s a great way to ensure that the first letter your donors receive after their thank you isn’t just another ask for money. Instead, a welcome series should broaden, deepen and expand the donors’ understanding of the organization’s work and, if possible, their gifts’ role in that work.

A welcome could be a series of emails or letters, or just 1; it could include more information about your work, a call to volunteer or encourage them to take a tour; it could include a gift or premium connected to the mission or your organization. A survey is also a great way to tell your new donors you want to know what THEY think.

In short, how you welcome them is up to you; but, the goal should be to connect them more closely to your cause so that they don’t forget the feelings that led them to donate in the first place.

And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s also important to move your new donors through the Cycle of Giving from the start. Whether they show an interest in becoming a volunteer or giving an in-kind gift, involving them in different ways to give is powerful and effective at tying new donors to your cause! To read more about the Cycle of Giving, click here.

Notice that a welcome series doesn’t need a hard ask for another donation. That’s because building the relationship is the focus here, not the second gift. Once you build the relationship, the more likely your first-time donors will be to give repeat gifts.

But that doesn’t mean not providing donors the opportunity to give again! With direct mail, make sure there’s a return envelope so that if your donor is moved to give, they can easily do so. In digital, make sure there’s a link that gives your donors an easy way to get to your donation page.


If we agree that new donors give because they feel moved by your cause, then it would make sense they would be moved all over again by hearing back from you about how their gift made a difference.

Sharing success stories through a newsletter, e-newsletter and direct mail multiple times throughout the year is a great way to show new donors just how their gift went to work and the impact that gift is having.

It’s another way to continue building your relationship. Like a welcome letter, you can write your newsletter in a way that showcases how the donor has helped. Because of their help, things have changed! And at that point, you can remind them of the ongoing need – the hundreds more people, or animals, or patients that your organization needs to help to continue fixing this problem.

In other words, make the donor your hero! When they know their contribution made a difference, they’re more likely to feel connected to your organization… and know that you’re not just interested in their money. That connection and trust often leads them to making a second gift the next time you ask them.

As I see it, being able to rise above the dismal retention numbers isn’t about how much money you raise. It’s much more long-term than that. As you connect a first-time donor to your work and they see their impact, their hearts are opened again and again to release generosity.

The ways to begin are simple: A heartfelt thank you, a welcome and a report back that invites a first-time donor to become part of your community. At that point, a second gift naturally seems like the next step. And from there, if you continue to cultivate this relationship, you just may defy the stats when it comes to donor retention.



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