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Why Retention Matters

Why Retention Matters

We can all agree that donor retention is important, but really how important?

Presenters Marie Kosanovich and Courtney Lewis revealed at last week’s Lunch and Learn: Retention and Lapsed Strategies, that acquiring new donors, members, and customers has become extremely competitive due to a crowded marketplace. The abundance of options has resulted in reduced acquisition potential. While overall donor retention is up 2.9%, the number of new donors has decreased by 4%. To answer the question above — having a retention strategy is more important than ever. Nonprofits need to do more with fewer donors, which calls for a strong renewal strategy and potentially shifting investments to retention and reactivation.

Introducing your best friend: The Renewal Series

The word “renew” is extremely effective! Your donors are already familiar with your organization and have defined their “why” for interacting with you, so the renewal series offers your donors the “when” for donating to your organization.

Kosanovich and Lewis noted that there are also different renewal strategies based upon your donor program. Before creating a strategy, identify whether your organization is donor or member based.

Examples of donor-based renewal messages include:

  • Giving to make a difference
  • Calendar-based series
  • Transactional formats and messaging
  • Cohesive messaging across channels and platforms
  • Length of series: adding notices until Break Even OR achieve Cost to Acquire.

Examples of member-based renewal messages include:

  • Giving to receive benefits
  • Expiration-based series
  • Emphasize consistency (ex: remind members they have heard from you before–and that their time is limited before benefits run out)
  • Cohesive messaging across channels and platforms
  • Length of series: Keep adding notices until Break Even OR achieve Cost to Acquire.

Many of these techniques and strategies can be incorporated in both direct mail as well as digital channels as, ideally, your renewal series crosses all channels. If you already have a renewal series, make sure that it spans all channels and get more aggressive with multivariate testing of asks.

Recency: You never know who your biggest supporter will be.

Since recency is king, and the best indicator of response, the more recent the gift the more likely the donor is to respond. For new donors, reducing the time frame between a 1st to 2nd gift will help increase value and retention. For active donors, pay attention to when donors give as they may respond to a similar campaign from the previous year and remind them that it’s time for their annual gift. A little more creativity may be necessary for lapsed donors to emphasize the need and why they need to give now.

In order to get, you must give (options). Provide multiple opportunities and options to give, including accepting how donors decide to give (i.e. PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay, DAF). And as recency is king, frequency is its king, so communicate with your donors as frequently as your budget allows, but use segmentation to make sure you are sending the correct opportunities to the right audiences at the right time.

Data segmentation and automation can play a large role in preventing donor lapse.

When was the last time you audited your data capabilities? Does your current strategy allow integration across channels? Are there opportunities to sync more data across systems to increase your cohesive messaging? Are there data fields you currently collect and aren’t utilizing? Get creative and identify what enhances your donors’ experience in a way that relates to your mission. Use your data about your donors (demographic, acquisition source, etc.) to create cultivation opportunities for key segments as identified in your donor journey.

Don’t be afraid to add more campaigns and tests to your renewal strategy and remember to audit your renewal series every year to ensure all content is still relevant and that any changes based upon test results have been made.

Rachel Feldman is the Senior Specialist, Sustainer Marketing at the Humane Society of the United States and can be reached at 301-721-6489 or

Sereen Sumner is the Web Marketing Specialist, Digital Marketing at the Humane Society of the United States and can be reached at 301-357-7627 or