Retention is the New Acquisition

Retention is the New Acquisition

With acquisition costs rising and retention rates falling, retaining the donors you have is one of the most important things your charity can do. Dearne Cameron explores why you should steward first, ask second.

Back in the good old days of fundraising, donor acquisition seemed easy… the more people a charity could get to give, the better. Right?

Those days appear to be behind us. Today we are experiencing a different environment, with finding new donors to replace those we have lost becoming increasingly expensive. Charities are asking Pareto Fundraising, “What’s the ‘next big thing’?”

Those charities that are investing in their existing donors and providing an amazing donor experience are the ones that are more likely to gain donor loyalty.

The figures from Pareto’s 2017 Benchmarking Report confirms the importance of lifting the second gift rate: the average second gift rates within 12 months for offline donors is 26.3% – and for online donors, it’s 20.5%. What this means for a direct mail acquisition program is that only 26.3% of new donors will give again within 12 months. It’s also important to note that if a new donor gives a second time, 42% (or two in five) will make the third gift. And then they are likely to give again and again.

To make new donor acquisition pay off, it takes some serious effort on the part of the charity to get that second gift.

Adrian Sargeant is the leading researcher on donor loyalty in the world today. As he says, as little as …a 10% increase in donor retention can increase the lifetime value of your donor database by 200%. Imagine what an impact that can have on your charity’s fundraising program.



There’s lots of research about why donors give. There’s even more research about why they stop giving. The most common reason given by donors is that they can’t afford to donate any more. That’s fair. Donating to your favourite charity is discretionary – and it can’t compete with buying food, paying utility bills etc.

A lot of the research also tells us that donors stop giving to charities because they:

  • were never thanked.
  • didn’t know how their donation was being used by the charity.
  • thought the organisation no longer needed their donation.
  • couldn’t remember donating (happens more than you imagine).
  • received poor service from the charity.

What’s most interesting about why donors stop giving is that most of the reasons are the responsibility of the charity itself. But the good news is that here at Pareto we’re seeing many charities taking decisive, effective action to stem donor attrition, and we’re proud to be working with them to build stewardship programs that will cultivate longterm donor loyalty.



Getting donor retention right is a worthy challenge for all fundraisers. But there’s a lot to get done. It takes commitment and focus to understand and put this one key formula to work: retention plus commitment equals increased lifetime value.

To make the change, start with your data. You’ve already got a great base to work from – a group of loyal supporters. You may have thousands of potential donors from the data you are gathering from your various fundraising and communications channels.

Capturing the right data is important and making sure you are communicating with your donors via the channels that appeal to them makes a difference.

In its simplest form, four steps underpin a successful donor stewardship strategy: Ask your donors for their help. Thank them for their help.

Report back to your donor on what you did with their donation. Repeat this process.

Do these four things and you have a much greater chance of seeing a substantial lift in loyalty and financial support.


Fundraisers who are committed to building their donor stewardship process do the following well: 

1 SAY THANK YOU PROPERLY There can be no question about this. Saying thank you to your donors is the most important part of your donor stewardship plan. Not only is it the right and polite thing to do but a thank you sets the stage for all communications to follow.

The faster a thank you is received, the more likely the donor is to give again. So make it a priority to thank your donors within 48 hours of making their donation. And a telephone call thank you is likely to give you greater returns in the long run. 

2 STAY TOP OF MIND Keep in touch with your donors constantly – not just when you need a donation. It’s very rarely the case that they will give more if they hear from you less. In fact, the more donors hear from you, the more they’ll like it.

The key to this is to work hard at creating personalised, compelling content that reflects the donor’s interests and aspirations. Target all your communications to reflect your charity’s breakthroughs in the areas that your donors have supported.

Make sure your communication is genuine and engaging:

  • send only intelligent communications.
  • design it right and make it look good.
  • get the grammar and punctuation right – you’d be surprised at just how many of your donors notice this!


3 TELL YOUR DONORS HOW THEIR GIFT MADE AN IMPACT If you want real loyalty from your donors, tell the stories that show them the difference they are making; stories that connect the donor and the cause.

These could be stories about individual donors and what their help accomplished or stories about beneficiaries and how their lives have been changed for the better because of a donor’s generosity. Empower your donors through your communication: You did this amazing thing because of your donation”, Thanks to you…, Because of you… or Your help did this….

At the end of the day, no donor just wants to make a donation. They want to make the world a better place.


4 ASK YOUR DONORS TO GET INVOLVED IN OTHER WAYS It’s not always about just sending a donation. Ask your donors for non-financial involvement or to complete your donor survey to find out about their interests in your organisation or to boost their commitment. Continually offer opportunities for your donor to have more personal engagement.

Invite them to face-to-face gatherings or use teleconferencing technologies for donor briefings. Where possible, invite donors to volunteer or take direct action to campaign for a change in laws, for example.

A donor who takes the time to become involved in some other way is far more likely to make another financial donation.


5 ASK FOR A DONATION – AND DO IT QUICKLY Don’t forget to ask for another donation. And make your second ask quickly. Don’t spend your time building the relationship and then just assume your donors will donate again. And be confident about making that ask: if you have put the time and effort into your donor stewardship program then the donor:

  • already feels part of your charity.
  • has already said yes to something else.
  • knows your charity uses their gift to make real and lasting change.
  • feels comfortable if they can’t afford to donate right now – keep up the relationship building and hopefully a donation will come soon.

But the only way to know how your donor stewardship program is going… is to ask!

Learn about building a bespoke stewardship program by emailing deane.cameron@

Dearne Cameron
Deane is CEO of Pareto Fundraising. She has more than 18 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector, extensive experience in the commercial sector and has held a variety of director and advisory board positions.

This article was first published in Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine 2017