How to Engage Donors to Keep Them Giving Year After Year

By Korrin Bishop

As you know, it takes staff time, resources, and diligence to attract new donors to your nonprofit. With the upfront investment you put into cultivating donor relationships, you might be wondering how you can turn those first-time donors into supporters who give to your mission each year. 

Engaging one-time donors to become recurring donors has a lot of value. One study found that monthly donors give 42% more in a year than one-time donors, and another showed they were worth over 52% more in their first year of giving.

So, if you’re looking to up your engagement game to keep donors giving year after year, you’re taking a great step for your organization. In this article, we’ll cover nine ideas to help with your engagement planning.

1. Send a Timely Thank You

One of the most important steps in building relationships with your donors is the thank you. When a donor gives to your nonprofit, make sure to acknowledge their gift with a phone call or email within 24 hours. This shows them you noticed their effort and value their support.

If this is a one-time donation (rather than a recurring monthly donation), follow up with a thank you letter and tax receipt within 72 hours of the gift, as well. This both demonstrates that your nonprofit is organized and able to get your donors the documentation they need and is also another chance to say thank you and let them know you appreciate their gift.

2. Send a Welcome Package

After a donor’s first gift, you have a chance to make them feel not just like someone who gave your organization some money, but rather, a valued member of your philanthropic community. Following their first gift, send a welcome package to tell them a little more about your work, what their gift will allow you to do, and how grateful you are that they’re joining your mission.

Your welcome package can be physical or digital. If you mail your welcome package, you can include a signed thank you card, a brochure about your work, a copy of your last annual report, and even some branded swag like an awareness bracelet, pen, or hat. 

If you email your welcome package, consider adding a personal video message. You can also include imagery that captures the emotion of your mission, links to your social media pages where your new donors can continue to follow your work, and some key takeaways about the impact their gift will have.

3. Make Use of Surveys

As you’ve probably noticed, not all donors like to be engaged in the same ways. Some prefer emails, others like texts, and some still like good old-fashioned snail mail. Donors may also have different interests in how they want to continue to support your nonprofit. Some may be interested in your major fundraising events, while others may be more attracted to volunteer opportunities.

Surveys are a great way to show your new donors that you care about how they want to engage with you and that you’re being proactive to learn what works best for them. You can ask them what attracted them to your organization in the first place, whether they have any special interests related to your mission, and what their communication preferences are.

Surveys help you get to know your donors better and meet them where they are.

4. Make Use of Donor Data

Many of us can’t remember the details of every one of our organization’s supporters off the top of our head, so if that resonates with you, you’re in good company! Keeping track of all your interactions with each donor in a customer relationship management (CRM) system can help you better connect with each individual. 

You can collect information in your CRM on how much a donor has given in the past, their birthday, whether they’ve attended any of your events or volunteered their time, if they’re a member of any local associations or businesses that could make good partners for your nonprofit, and more. This donor data will help you create more meaningful communications and deepen your relationships.

5. Regularly Show Impact

Donors want to know that when they give money to your organization, you are using it well. They want to know their gift is really making an impact. You can help engage them in your mission by highlighting this impact on a regular basis.

There are several channels you can consider for sharing your work. You can send an annual report to summarize your impact over the course of the year and monthly newsletters to show what you’re accomplishing each month. Staying active on social media is also a great way to announce your nonprofit’s big updates, highlight testimonials from your beneficiaries, and even give shoutouts to your donors who make things possible.

6. Encourage Recurring Donations

Donors who give monthly, even if it’s a small amount, tend to stay donors for a longer time. To encourage monthly giving, incorporate an option on your donation form that supporters can check to make their gift automatically repeat each month.

If a supporter makes a one-time gift, consider ways to let them know about your recurring donor option. You may also want to give your recurring donor community its own name and branding or message it as being a part of the “family.” 

You can also highlight the benefits of a monthly gift for both your donor and your organization. 

Your donor won’t have to remember to keep returning to your website to give, and they’ll also have the option to donate as much or as little as they want every month. If they can’t afford to make a large one-time gift, you can remind them that just ten dollars a month over the course of a year will add up to a $120 gift. Emphasize the ease of a recurring donation.

You can also let donors know how recurring gifts create a sustainable, reliable funding stream for your mission so that even in uncertain times, you’re able to rely on your recurring donor family to keep making an impact.

Recurring donors should get their own special thank you, and remember to keep showing gratitude and sharing updates throughout the year.

7. Don’t Ask Them to Give Too Often

Have you ever had an organization or an individual only get in touch with you when they want something? If you have, you probably know how icky or irritating the situation can feel. You may have even found yourself pulling away from the dynamic. Relationships are give and take, so when one person is constantly asking for more but not connecting in other ways, it can be a real turnoff. 

Asking for donations too often will discourage people from wanting to give to and support your organization. Most of your communications should be about showing the impact of your donors’gifts. By demonstrating what you’re able to do with their donations, you’re building the case for why they should give again without even needing to ask.

8. Get Them Involved in Other Ways

While monetary donations are critical for nonprofits, they’re not the only way supporters can be involved with your mission. A great way to engage one-time donors is to get them involved with your organization in a variety of ways. You can invite them to attend your events, share volunteer opportunities with them, participate in a peer-to-peer campaign, and ask them to help spread the word about your nonprofit to their friends and family via social media or other channels.

As donors engage with your nonprofit in new ways, their commitment to your work grows. They’re able to interact with your mission and get a hands-on experience that they’ll likely remember more than a donation envelope.

9. Surprise & Delight

When someone you care about gives you flowers or writes you a note on your birthday, it can feel really nice. But, sometimes it’s even nicer to get those flowers or notes completely out of the blue! People enjoy knowing that others are thinking about them and value them, especially when they don’t expect it.

You can show your donors some love by letting them know you’re thinking of them when they don’t expect it. Rather than only saying thank you right after a gift or a volunteer shift, consider sending them a simple handwritten card in the mail on a random day throughout the year. This heartfelt approach will work wonders! 

Engage Your Donors to Keep Them Committed to Your Mission and Giving Each Year

Each new donor to your organization is an opportunity to build a lifelong relationship. Using the tips above, you can engage your donors in a way that keeps them involved with your mission and coming back to donate year after year.

Korrin Bishop is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in the nonprofit world. She studied Nonprofit Administration at the University of Oregon, serves as the pro bono Development Director for Sundress Academy for the Arts, and has been involved with nonprofit work spanning audits, volunteering, communications, fundraising, and more. You can learn about her work at: www.korrinbishop.com.

How to Create Your 2020 Annual Report

The nonprofit annual report is a mixed bag. Organizations do need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but many annual reports are done poorly. They’re often too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. It’s also time consuming to put together, even when we’re not in a pandemic.

COVID-19 and our other current situations have brought about many changes, or at least they should. You can’t create the same type of annual report you’ve done in the past. I think some of the changes I’m going to suggest should be carried out in the future, as well.

First, you don’t have to do an annual report, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead. This makes a lot of sense now when things are changing rapidly and you don’t have time to take on a big report. 

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Shorter is better.

You also need to address how your organization is faring with the current situations – the pandemic, economic downturn, racial reckoning, etc.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that’s relevant during the current situations, won’t put your donors to sleep, and make it a little easier for you to put together.

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them. Also, donors have a lot going on, so that’s another reason to not create a huge report that they may or may not read.

You might want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report. Many donors have stepped up to help during this past year and deserve to be thanked for that.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples. I know these are on the longer side, but they still have some good examples.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

Power of Storytelling | The most moving gratitude report I’ve ever seen

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They are organization-centered instead of being donor-centered and community-centered.

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. I know your organization had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but what’s most important is why you needed to do that.

You can say something like this – In the past year, we have seen triple the number of people at the Northside Community Food Bank. We also had to make changes at our facility so we could continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we were able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report or any type of impact report.

Tell a story

Donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. 

For example –  Leah, a single mother with three kids, lost her full-time job earlier in the year and has been trying to make ends meet with periodic work. Ever since the pandemic started it’s been a struggle for her family. She could barely afford groceries, rent, and utilities. Leah had never gone to a food bank before and felt ashamed to have to do that. But when she reached out to the Northside Community Food Bank, she was treated with respect and dignity. Now she’s able to bring home healthy food for her family.

Make it visual

Your donors have a lot going on and won’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as volunteers working at a food bank or clients, if you have their permission.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read. Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. This is even more important during COVID-19, since living in a shelter or with other families isn’t safe. Now, these families have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Planning is key

I know putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Creating a shorter report or an infographic postcard will also help make this easier for you. Remember, you also have the option of not doing an annual report and sending periodic short updates instead.

With everything changing at a rapid pace, I hope you’ve been updating your donors frequently. If not, you need to start doing that. 

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a relevant annual or impact report for 2020.

How to Create a Meaningful Nonprofit Annual Report in the Year of the Pandemic

Creating a Nonprofit Impact Report in the Time of COVID-19

8 Annual Reports We Love

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

This is the Year to be Truly Thankful for Your Donors

Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s a time of the year in the U.S. when we show gratitude to the special people in our lives. For many, it will be a different Thanksgiving. Some people may not gather with family and friends and if they do, it will be with fewer people, while taking precautions to stay safe. 

Your donors are also special people. Many of them have gone the extra mile this year to help you during these difficult times. Don’t they deserve to be showered with gratitude?  

Even if donors cut back on their giving or haven’t given at all this year, they should still get some attention. Hopefully, they’ll give again in the future. There’s a better chance of that if you treat them well.

Showing gratitude doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, but you need to spend just as much time thanking your donors as you do on fundraising.

Here are a few ways to thank your donors and let them know they’re special.

Wish your donors a Happy Thanksgiving

Send your donors a special Thanksgiving message. A lot of nonprofits already do this, but I think as many organizations as possible should do it this year. If you can send a card or postcard, that’s great, but an email message is also fine.

As I hope you’ve been doing for the last several months, wish your donors well. Let them know how grateful you are to have them as part of your family. Your donors will appreciate a heartfelt message right now. 

Don’t stop with Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time to show some #donorlove. The holidays and New Year’s are just around the corner and that’s a good opportunity, especially for those of you outside the U.S., to express gratitude. But you don’t need a reason. Just thank your donors and do it often. 

Whatever you decide, DO NOT include a donation envelope or any other type of ask with your thank you message. This is known as a thask and it’s guaranteed to deflate your donor’s good feelings in an instant.

Incorporate thanking your donors into your year-end fundraising campaign

Many of you are working on your year-end fundraising campaign. I know you’re trying to raise money, but you should also be showing gratitude. Does your appeal thank donors for their past or potential gifts?

Besides wishing your donors a Happy Thanksgiving, find other ways to show gratitude while you’re also sending appeals. This is especially important around #GivingTuesday and I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Be ready to thank your donors as soon as you receive a donation

Every single donor, no matter how much they’ve given or whether they donated online, gets a thank you card/letter mailed to them or receives a phone call.

Planning ahead will help you thank your donors as soon as possible. I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time and effort getting your fundraising appeal out. Perhaps you’ve recruited other staff or volunteers to help you.

You need to do the same thing when you thank your donors. Get your board, other staff, and volunteers to help make phone calls, write thank you notes, or include a handwritten note on a thank you letter. Much of this can be done from home.

Do a better job of thanking your donors

Your donors deserve more than just the same, lame generic thank you letter. I write a lot about thanking donors. Here are a couple of recent posts that cover ways to do a better job of thanking your donors.

Get Ready to Pour on the Gratitude

How to Give Your Donors a More Personal Online Thank You Experience

The initial thank you right after you receive a donation is important. So is the next one and the one after that and the one after that….

Thanking your donors is not a one-time deal. You want to thank your donors at least once a month. Here are some ideas to show gratitude throughout the year.

  • Send a handwritten note.
  • Create a thank you video and share it on your website, by email, and on social media.
  • Send welcome packets to your new donors.
  • Invite your donors to connect with you via email and social media. Keep them updated on your success and challenges. Making all your communications donor-centered will help convey an attitude of gratitude.
  • Thank your donors in your newsletters and other updates. Emphasize that you wouldn’t be able to do the work you do without their support.
  • Create a virtual tour or other engaging video content so your donors can see your nonprofit up close and personal.
  • Thank your donors just because they’re great.
  • Keep thinking of other ways to thank your donors.

5 Donor Love Must-Do’s for the COVID-19 Crisis

9 Donor Stewardship Ideas to Keep Your Donors Feeling Connected While Practicing Social Distancing

We need more kindness right now

During these tumultuous times, we keep getting more and more divided. Wherever you live and whichever way you lean politically, we should all show more kindness towards each other. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, some people put hearts and teddy bears in their windows, along with signs of support for essential workers. That’s mostly disappeared and I’d like to see it return. I know everyone is tired of wearing masks and socially distancing, but it’s either that or you risk getting infected. Some kindness, both towards ourselves and others, will help us get through this.

In the spirit of kindness, show some gratitude to your donors and make them feel special. 

Personalization in Marketing: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Success

Personalization in your nonprofit’s marketing strategies is an important way to build relationships with your supporters to support long-term fundraising goals.

By Gerard Tonti

Personalized marketing is key for nonprofit success, especially when it comes to donor communications. Your supporters are much more likely to pay attention and feel appreciated when your nonprofit addresses them and their interests in your marketing initiatives. This helps build stronger relationships with them and maintain their support in the long-term.

Therefore, as you create your marketing plan, make sure your nonprofit effectively uses software to engage your audience and personalize outreach as much as possible. 

Here at Salsa, we work with all sorts of nonprofit organizations, helping them manage data that makes personalized marketing possible. We’ve found some of the most successful strategies to connect with supporters through data and effective marketing include: 

  1. Address your supporter by name. 
  2. Employ preferred marketing channels. 
  3. Launch a new donor marketing campaign. 
  4. Segment supporters by giving level. 
  5. Consider the geographic location of supporters. 
  6. Keep an eye on engagement metrics. 

The only way to completely personalize your marketing campaigns is to reach out to each supporter individually— every time. This is unrealistic and would use a lot of your organization’s resources and time. 

Therefore, nonprofits have devised techniques to personalize their messaging in a timely manner. Each of these strategies requires the use of an effective donor database solution. Keep this in mind as you’re exploring these techniques.

Now, let’s get started!

1. Address your supporter by name. 

This first tip might seem like a small detail, but it’s incredibly important to encourage your donors to actually read the messages you send to them. It’s a crucial step to establish a connection with your supporter, making it one of the foundations for effective communication

Consider your mail and email communications. Are you more likely to read a message with a salutation of “Dear valued donor” or “Dear [your name]”? Probably the latter! As an example, look at the two samples from nonprofit thank-you messages: 

Dear valued donor,

Thank you for your generous contribution to the buy-a-backpack campaign. Your gift is supporting the purchase of school supplies for hundreds of kids in the community. 

Compare that first message to the following: 

Dear Kiesha, 

Thank you for your generous contribution to the buy-a-backpack campaign. Your gift of $1,000 allowed us to buy new school supplies for 100 kids in the community. 

Using the supporter’s name in the introduction catches their attention and shows that the message is crafted for them rather than a mass audience. 

Other details included in the message were also designed to personally address the supporter’s action, including: 

  • Specifying the amount of the gift contributed
  • Communicating the impact of that specific contribution
  • Identifying the campaign that the supporter contributed to

By getting specific and using personal details in the messages you send supporters, you’re telling them the communication was crafted specifically for them. This establishes a more personal relationship over time. 

2. Use preferred marketing channels. 

There are a lot of different ways you can get in touch with your nonprofit’s supporters. However, your supporters probably check some communication channels more frequently than others. 

Using the channels your supporters pay the closest attention to is a great way to boost supporter engagement with your organization. 

How can you figure out which channels your supporters prefer? There are two primary ways: 

  1. Ask them. This is the easiest way to figure out your supporters’ preferences. Send them a survey and ask key questions about what messages they like the most and how they’d prefer to receive those messages. 
  2. Analyze marketing results. The other way you can discover your supporters’ preferences is by analyzing their past engagement metrics with various platforms. If you find that a supporter tends to open and click through your emails more often than other platforms, you should continue using email. 

Some of the channels you may consider analyzing and asking your supporters about include: 

  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Phone calls
  • In-person meetings
  • Social media

After you’ve discovered the most effective and desired channels among your supporters, you can start integrating those channels into your marketing plan. 

Keep in mind, however, that the most effective way to communicate with supporters is through a multi-channel marketing approach. This means your organization will use a few separate channels to touch base with each of your supporters. For instance, you may use social media for frequent updates, direct mail to inform supporters about new campaigns, and phone calls to show your appreciation to donors after they contribute. 

3. Create a marketing campaign for new donors.

Many nonprofits tend to focus heavily on donor acquisition. In reality, it’s a good strategy to put more emphasis on retaining those supporters you already have. Retaining donors is a more cost-effective strategy with a higher chance of increasing your secured revenue. 

Specifically, the best way to increase your donor retention rate is to make sure your new donors feel welcomed and appreciated by your nonprofit. 

We suggest creating a new donor marketing campaign to accomplish this goal. An easy way to do this? Develop a drip campaign with information that will intrigue this audience. It looks like this: 

  • Develop templates and email drafts of information that new supporters will appreciate and engage with. Make sure these emails stand out and differ from one another. For example, you might send supporters a one-pager about the need for your mission, a summary of the upcoming events or virtual opportunities offered by your organization, and updates from your most recent program, all in separate emails.
  • Create a donor segment of new supporters. You can set up automatic emails to send to this group of supporters using effective marketing tools. Be careful not to send the messages too frequently as to not desensitize the supporters to seeing your name in their inbox, but send them frequently enough to keep you in the front of their minds. Once or twice a week should suffice. 
  • Provide the next step to drive engagement further for this group of supporters. For example, you might ask them to sign up for your newsletter, make a second gift, or register for your upcoming (virtual) event. Be sure to include this as an eye-catching call-to-action in your email communications. 

To make this possible, your nonprofit needs both fundraising and marketing software that will work well together. Salsa’s fundraising software offers an example of a solution that has features such as rich donor profiles and a seamless integration between fundraising and marketing to help nonprofits create these useful campaigns. 

4. Segment supporters by giving level. 

While you undoubtedly appreciate all of your supporters, some have a greater capacity to give and the ability to drive your mission further. 

That’s why as you personalize your communications, it’s important to recognize the donors with the greatest potential lifetime value so you can focus your efforts on developing a connection and relationship with them.

You can do this by segmenting your supporters by giving level (or prospective giving level if you’re using prospect research strategies).

Major donors and major prospects should have the most personalized interactions with your organization. You may go above and beyond with these supporters by: 

  • Setting up in-person or video meetings with them
  • Asking them for their opinions on your latest campaign
  • Giving advanced notice about major campaigns
  • Calling them more frequently with updates

Segmenting your donors by giving level gives your organization a better understanding of who your major prospects and donors are so you can specialize your outreach to them and make stronger connections.

5. Consider the geographic location of supporters. 

One characteristic that you should consider as you personalize your communications with supporters is where they live. This has been historically important for event planning as nonprofits send specialized invitations to their supporters who live in the area where an event will occur. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, nonprofits have realized that geographic location is a less significant factor when hosting virtual fundraising events. Handbid’s virtual event guide explains how to host these and reiterates how they can unleash greater event potential by removing geographic restrictions to attendance. 

However, this doesn’t mean you should stop considering the geographic location of your supporters. 

Geographic location is important for communicating impact to your donors. For example, imagine you’re a donor contributing to a nonprofit that helps provide school supplies for kids. You might feel an even greater connection to this cause if you know your contributions are helping kids in your own community.

Drawing on the ties that supporters have to their own communities helps them feel like they’re truly making a difference that they can see in their everyday lives. 

6. Keep an eye on engagement metrics. 

After you’ve incorporated personalization strategies into your nonprofit’s marketing plan, be sure to keep an eye on the success metrics to see how they’re performing. Consider tracking the difference in the metrics before and after you implemented personalization strategies to ensure your communication is actually improving and you’re further engaging your audience. 

Some key performance metrics that you can keep an eye on include: 

  • Email open rates
  • Email click-through rates
  • Event attendance metrics
  • Survey response rates
  • Donor retention rates

As these metrics increase and improve, your fundraising efforts should also show signs of improvement. Keep an eye on all of your metrics in your nonprofit’s CRM software. If your donor database integrates seamlessly with your marketing and fundraising solutions (like Salsa’s Smart Engagement Technology), you should be able to easily track and measure success metrics. If you want to learn more about choosing and implementing software that makes this possible, check out this handy guide.  


Personalized marketing is key for your nonprofit’s increased donor engagement and retention strategies. It’s important to develop relationships and encourage a greater connection between donors and your organization. Use these six helpful strategies to get started with your organization’s personalized marketing. Good luck! 

Gerard Tonti is the Senior Creative Developer at Salsa Labs, the premier fundraising software company for growth-focused nonprofits. 

Gerard’s marketing focus on content creation, conversion optimization, and modern marketing technology helps him coach nonprofit development teams on digital fundraising best practices.