2 Friendship-Building Secrets to Build Donor Loyalty


Guest Post by Claire Axelrad

How are you doing keeping your donors?

If you’re like most nonprofits, your answer will range anywhere from “just okay” to “we’re hemorrhaging them!”

The Fundraising Effectiveness Project has been tracking donor retention for a decade, and donor and dollar retention averages below 50%. In the most recent study:

  • Only 46% of all donors renew.
  • Only 23% of first-time donors renew.
  • The dollar retention rate is just 48%
  • For every 100 donors acquired, 99 are lost to attrition.

If we’ve known this for this long, why aren’t things improving?

The 2 Fundamental Reasons Donor Retention is So Miserable
  1. Nonprofits don’t take time to actively make friends.
  2. Nonprofits don’t take time to then be a good friend.

I often say:

“The number one reason folks don’t give is they aren’t asked.  The number one reason they don’t give again is because you didn’t ‘make nice.’”

It sounds simple, I know.  But ask yourself how much of your day you spend really doing this?

Would you like a couple of secrets to help you activate you friendship building strategy?

1. Actively Make Friends

Let me illustrate how this is done with a story about my daughter.

She happens to be an introvert. She’s also an empath. And something in her brain clicked on her first day of high school. She intuitively understood that everyone was in the same boat as she was.  No one had friends. Everyone felt uncertain as to how much they would be welcomed into their new community.

So she went up to strangers and invited engagement.  She showed interest in them.  She listened to them. She drew them out, and didn’t make it about herself.

Within a week’s time she had a cadre of loyal friends.  They became more loyal every day. She’s now in her senior year, and most of these friends have stuck with her.


Because she also actively does something else.

2. Be a Good Friend

Once you make a friend, it’s incumbent on you to demonstrate to them that you care about them. What do good friends do?

  • They regularly think about each other
  • They call each other up.
  • They invite each other out.
  • They share items of interest.
  • They give each other gifts.
  • They support each other when times are bad.
  • They celebrate each other’s successes.
  • They accept one another.
  • They are honest and self-revelatory with each other.

How much do you do these things with your donors?

5 Action Tips to Make and Keep Friends (aka Donors)

1. Start with a sincere thank you.

Saying “thank you” is the first, and most important, step to building loyalty.

According to Penelope Burk, the three things donors most want from charities all have to do with saying “thank you.”  They want it to be (1) prompt, (2) personal, and (3) powerfully demonstrative of the impact of their philanthropy.

According to Bloomerang, 13% of donors leave because the nonprofit didn’t say thanks.

Donors need to know:

  • You got the gift
  • You put it to work as the donor intended
  • You follow through
  • You’re efficient
  • You have manners
  • You’re trustworthy
  • You’re committed to making your donors happy

2. Never stop thanking.

Gratitude, to be effective, must be repeated. You truly cannot thank people too much.

While I may feel momentarily satisfied by the thank you letter you send me following my gift, my satisfaction won’t remain for long.  I’ll start to wonder if my gift is really having an impact. I’ll wonder if you still remember me or if anyone there knows I’m a donor. Am I important to you as a person, or just another wallet?

In fact, I advocate sending thank you’s from multiple contacts at your nonprofit. Dole these out over time. One from the executive director today. One from the program director three weeks later. One from someone who was helped a month after that. And so forth.

A practice of continuous gratitude, expressed by different people, helps the donor feel part of your extended family and community.  It has the added benefit of assuring your donor will remain connected should their primary contact leave the organization.

3. Flatter.

You can’t do this too much either.

The best way to flatter a donor is to remind them – over and over – “You made this possible.”

If you don’t “do the woo,” I can guarantee you someone else will. The philanthropy marketplace is crowded with other suitors.

4. Creatively demonstrate the impact they have on you.

Come up with different ways to show your donors the impact of their giving.  Help them to see, feel, hear, touch and even smell your work. Here are a few ideas:

  • Snapshot of your work in action
  • Video of your work in action
  • Letter/card/drawing from a recipient of services
  • Event where clients attend
  • Hands-on volunteer activity

5. Give gifts.

Show your donors you’re thinking of them. Often.

Gifts needn’t be tangible stuff.  Little gifts of content are swell. Stories. “How-to” posts. Recommended reading lists. Recipes. Phone calls. Handwritten notes. Or offer experiences like behind-the-scene tours.


Absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

Commit to creating a friendship-building plan that keeps your organization top of mind with your supporters. Write your plan down and assign some resources to see it through!

That’s by far the best way to assure your donors will be in a receptive frame of mind when you next approach them for a favor (aka, donation).

Want to get more great fundraising tips and strategies sent to you each week by e-mail?  Be sure to sign-up for our free Weekly Fundraising Round-Up using the form below:

About the Author

Claire Axelrad is a well-respected fundraising consultant, author and speaker and the founder of Clairification.  She has over 30 years experience helping non-profits build cultures of philanthropy, not fundraising.

Photo Credit: Mike Nelson