For anyone involved in fundraising for more than a few years, you’ve probably heard of “donor-centered fundraising.” The idea behind this concept is that everything a nonprofit organization does must primarily focus on making the donor experience as positive as possible so that donors can be retained over the long term. After all, retaining donors is much less expensive than finding new donors each year.

Thankfully, Cygnus Applied Research has been studying what donors want from the nonprofits they support for twenty-five years.

Here’s what they’ve discovered is most essential to keeping donors:

  1. The first step in retaining a donor is a prompt acknowledgment of their gift. This should be accomplished with a compelling and genuinely gracious thank you letter that is sent within a few days of receiving the gift. Turn-around time is important. A speedy acknowledgement of gift #1 is the best predictor of a second gift.
  2. Donors want gifts to be used for specific purposes rather than for general support that benefits the nonprofit mission or brand. Focus gifts on programs or projects that will inspire giving.
  3. Before asking for another gift, donors want to receive a “report card” on how their last gift was used. This report card should include evidence of measurable progress toward the ultimate goal. For example, a donor report card might relay that because of their most recent gift, 150 more families received food assistance over the last quarter.

These three factors are the most important insights into retaining your donors. As a fundraiser, you need to be asking yourself, “Am I doing these three things consistently?” They must be a priority.

As a CEO or Board member, you should ask yourself “How can I support my fundraising staff in ensuring that donors get a ‘knock your socks off’ donor experience from our organization?”

Also notice what wasn’t on this list:

  1. Donors don’t want thank you trinkets to clutter their home or office.
  2. Donors don’t want staff to fawn over them.
  3. Donors don’t want over communication from the organization. They have lives and don’t want to be pestered. (It’s always a good idea to ask donors how often they’d like to hear from the organization and what means of communication they prefer).

The above doesn’t just apply to major gift donors. It applies to every donor.

With nonprofit donor retention rates hovering around 35%, nonprofits need to get better at stewarding donors. This is the secret to stronger charitable organizations.