How a Culture of Philanthropy Can Improve Donor Retention

You know this.  Sixty percent of the donors who make a first-time gift to your organization,

never make a second.  And every year thereafter, about 35% of your donors stop giving to you. There appears to be two typical responses to these facts:

  1. Nonprofit leaders, fundraising professionals, board members simply throw up their hands, continue doing what they've always done and complain about how bad things are.
  2. Massively increase the number of direct mails, emails, social media outreach saying “Give to me! Give you me!”

Neither of these will have the desired outcome of building a stronger, more loyal donor base.

Loyalty happens when donors feel—strongly—that their philanthropic needs and desires are being met. Note the word “their.”  Not yours.  Not your organization’s.  Theirs.

And you do that by making your donors feel as if they matter.

They will feel that if they believe that they are seen and heard.  That means personal interactions.

Yes, I know.  You are busy—too busy to fundraise!—and there are too many donors and prospects to individually touch.

But that is why building a culture of philanthropy at your organization is so critical.

A culture of philanthropy simply states that everyone—board, staff, clients, volunteers—understands the value of those who support you.  Fundraising—the process by which you turn individuals who might care about what you into those who not only do care but support you—is everyone’s responsibility. That means that whoever answers the phone does so professionally and courteously.  He or she doesn’t tell callers that “so and so isn’t in.  Call back later!”

A culture of philanthropy means that everyone can tell your story; not just what you do but what you accomplish.  Success stories should be widely known throughout your organization, and everyone should be encouraged to share them with the wider world.

The wider world, of course, includes your donors, and they of all people must be told how their support contributed to these successes.

Yes, I know.  You are too busy.  But you have your board, your staff, perhaps your clients, who can help reach out.

Board members can be asked to spend a few minutes at each board and committee meeting to write a short note to a donor, a lapsed donor, a not-yet donor, telling them what happens because of their support.

Staff members can be recruited to make one phone call a week to a donor just to say thank you and, by the way, here’s what your gift meant.

Clients could star in a short video (and yes, it’s fine to do this on your phone, as long as you have written permission from the client or client’s family to do so) that says “thank you for what you do!”

Making donors feel valued will pay off in very large ways.  One of those ways may be that in addition to your board, staff, clients, you may be able to recruit a few of them to be a part of your culture of philanthropy and ask them to reach out to others and say “Thank you for joining me in making a difference.”

Janet Levine helps nonprofits go from mired to inspired, through training, coaching and consulting. Find out more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and contact Janet to find out how she can inspire your organization.