Increasing donor retention rates is one of the top initiatives of charitable organizations.
When it comes to transforming a one-time gift into a second, a simple "thank you" goes a long way.
Research shows that first-time donors who receive a thank-you within 48 hours of giving are four times more likely to give again. This 400% bump in donor retention forms the foundation behind the donor-centric fundraising philosophy.
Donor-centric fundraising is simple: Show appreciation to your donors, and you can expect them to return. It's no different than anything else in life. If you stop at a local coffee shop where the baristas know your name and the owner thanks you for your business, that coffee shop will likely become your morning routine. Or, if you have certain friends who show up, support you, and express gratitude for your relationship, you're more likely to invest in that friendship.
Donor-centric fundraising brings a level of humanity back to charitable giving. Below, we explain what donor-centric fundraising is and how you can use it in your fundraising strategy.
What is donor-centric fundraising, exactly?
Donor-centric fundraising inspires donors to stay loyal to your organization.
Donor-centric fundraising (sometimes called community-centric fundraising), was first developed by Penelope Burk in her best-selling book. The goal is to encourage second- or third-time donations or to increase the amount given. To do this, nonprofits try to develop a deeper connection with their donor base so individual donors feel valued by the organization.
Sounds great in theory, right? But how do you put this strategy into practice?
To create a donor-centric culture, your organization must pay attention to donors at all times (not just during fundraising season or Giving Tuesday). Donors must be top-of-mind when you make any and all decisions — whether it's bringing on a new board member, replacing a tenured executive director, or recruiting a new group of volunteers.
The best part of donor-centric fundraising is that it's truly not complicated — you simply need to make your donors feel valued. To do this, think of how you would make a partner, friend, or colleague feel appreciated:
- Thank them for their contributions
- Acknowledge and express gratitude for their efforts
- Reach out without being asked or probed
- Don't simply show up when you need something in return
If you keep these high-level thoughts in mind, you can incorporate a donor-centric philosophy to raise more money for your organization. Below, we dive into tactical solutions to incorporate the donor-centric philosophy into your fundraising events.
4 tactics to transition to a donor-centric fundraising philosophy
While expressing gratitude to improve donor relations sounds great in theory, it's meaningless if it’s not put into practice. Below, we walk you through actionable steps you can take to become a donor-centric organization.
1. Thank your donors (immediately)
Showing your appreciation starts with two simple words: thank you.
Thank your donors early and thank them often. Ideally, thank donors for their contributions within 48 hours of making a gift. After a large campaign or a major gift has been made, consider thanking supporters a second time with a handwritten note or personal phone call. To do this, try the following:
- Use automated thank-yous ✏️: Customize your donor receipts to include a gracious message. These automated thank-yous work with both online and offline contributions so you can express your gratitude as soon as possible.
- Follow up with a hand-written note 📜: There's nothing quite as personal as a hand-written thank you. After your campaign, rally your volunteers to write a quick note (just 2-4 sentences is all it takes!) to direct mail to your supporters. (To organize supporter addresses, use custom fields to collect their info.)
2. Show your appreciation outside your campaigns
Roughly one-third of annual giving occurs in the last month of the year, following Giving Tuesday. Even as proud members of the nonprofit sector, surely you're familiar with the increase of solicitations toward year-end.
Which sparks the question: Why pay attention to donors strictly during fundraising season?
Showing you care means showing appreciation when donors least expect it.
To do this, think of acknowledging donors when:
- It's their birthday 🎂: Integrate your fundraising efforts with a CRM system, then collect donors' birth dates when they give to your campaign. That way, you can send them a note or e-card when it's their birthday.
- They receive positive press 📣: Do corporate donors or local businesses support your cause? If you see them receive recognition in the media, spend five minutes sending them a note, showing that you cheer them on and support them just as much as they support you.
- They organize an event 🎉: If you expect donors to show up for you, you should return the favor. If an individual or corporate donor invites you to a fundraiser, event, cocktail mixer, or grand opening of their business, send a representative (or at least a note!) to share in their success.
3. Acknowledge donors when they least expect it
Donor communication lines should always remain open across all channels. While donors may expect a thank you following a contribution, you can always find creative ways to express your gratitude.
Think outside the thank-you note when acknowledging your donors. Acknowledge them on social media, post major donors to your website, or mention them at community foundation events. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Add a "shout-outs" section to your newsletter 🎤: How nice would it be to open your inbox and see your name listed? Add a section to your monthly newsletter where you acknowledge one donor and how they made an impact in your organization.
- Feature donors in social media (with permission) 🎇: Create a "Thank You Thursdays" segment on your Instagram and Facebook stories where you share one donor. You could share fun facts about the individual or a personal anecdote of how they're connected to your cause.
- Create a video montage 🎥: Do you have Instagram Reels or saved videos from various fundraising events? Create a video montage thanking everyone who donated, volunteered, or otherwise supported your cause, then share it on your donating page or social media accounts.
4. Allow donors to take an active role in your organization
Donor-centric fundraising exists to make your supporters feel good. You want them to feel seen, heard, and appreciated — and therefore more connected to your cause.
Rather than have a reactive relationship with donors (i.e. thanking them after a contribution) allow them to take an active role in your efforts. Ask them to submit their ideas, request their feedback, or see if they'd be interested in speaking at an event. For example:
- Send out donor surveys ✅: Make it a bi-annual or quarterly practice to request feedback from major donors. They will know their feedback is valued, and they may have some innovative fundraising ideas for your next campaign.
- Ask donors to share their story 👫: Are you hosting a webinar or live streaming an event during the pandemic? Rather than ask for celebrity guests, ask your donors to share personal stories on why your organization matters to them.
- Create an organization all-hands meeting ✋: Your most loyal supporters want to know where your organization is headed. Create an "all-hands" meeting that's open to the public, sending personal email invitations to your donors.
Ready to start showing your appreciation for donors? The Givebutter platform offers 70+ features that you can leverage to show your gratitude. Sign-up for a free account today to launch your campaign and express your appreciation.
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.