How this development director missed her declining retention rate—and how she’s fixing it now

annual donor chart

Our client finally turned the corner after four consecutive years of decline. Revenue and number of donors both increased last year after hitting rock-bottom the year before. The development director was feeling optimistic.

So what compelled her to write this memo the very day we delivered her Five Maples custom donor analytics report?

The note goes on for two single-spaced pages. She drafted a revamped fundraising plan based on the findings in her custom report.


annual donor chart
Our analysis revealed that while there was an overall increase in number of donors, retention of repeat donors was falling at an alarming rate!

First-time donors were on the rise. So much so, that it masked the fact that repeat donors continued in their decline.

So why does this erosion of their base level of support really matter? It is the multi-year donor who knows, loves and trusts the organization with their gift at much higher levels than a typical first-timer. Caring for repeat donors is a top priority for any development office. Our analysis showed that while efforts to draw new donors were effective, it may have been at the expense of their current relationships.

An Action Plan for Improving Retention

Our client has allowed me to share the action items from her memo. It’s a rare glimpse into another organization’s planning process. Whether you have a retention problem or not, these are terrific ideas you might want to tailor to your own plan.

The following revised plan is prepared with the goals of improving retention rates.

1. Prepare a special letter from the Executive Director thanking re-activated donors and noticing that they “came back” (in-house for 174 donors)

2. Prepare a similar letter of welcome to the new donors (in-house for 374)

3. Conduct a thank-a-thon by assigning calls to staff and volunteers:

  • $250-$999 by volunteers
  • $1,000-$2,499 by senior staff
  • $2,500 and up by members of the Board of Directors

4. Review all thank you letters for freshness and appeal:

  • Revise and edit all letters
  • Invite a youth under the age of 20 to prepare a thank you note on how we changed or impacted their life and have letter signed by that person to be sent to all new and reactivated donors.

5. Appeal letters

  • Consider a pull-out quote from the letter prepared by the youth
  • Continue with story based and values based letters, as these have worked well during the past year.

6. New Appeal Letter Schedule

  • Spring Appeal with segments focused on retention (loyal, new, reactivated, lapsed)
  • Pull-out quote will come from the thank you letter by a youth
  • Special May appeal will be sent to all donors at $1,000 and up to invite them to consider a capital projects gift
  • August Appeal for all who have not pledged or donated
  • Year-end Appeal

7. Social Media

  • Work with Marketing to integrate themes and messages as much as possible
  • Take advantage at specific times of year to incorporate a giving message in an eblast
  • Coordinate direct mail and email, especially at year end

For a deeper look into the data, view the study on

Enjoy insight you’ll never get from “canned reports.”

Let Five Maples prepare a customized analysis for you with your own organization’s data. Call me at 1-800-437-7780 ext 104 or Email Me Today!

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