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Only You Can Prevent Donor Loss

Updated: May 8, 2023

Take Away: Writing a properly structured thank you note can help reduce 33% of donor attrition

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute, the average U.S. nonprofit loses 55.5% of its donors every year!


There are many reasons. One survey found 19% of lapsed donors stopped giving because they didn’t feel thanked or acknowledged. An additional 14% said it was because they weren’t told how their money was used. By addressing these two problems, you can help your nonprofit retain as much as 33% of your lapsed donors.

If your nonprofit raises $1 million a year, that’s $330,000 worth of new gifts you don’t have to find

Besides, it’s easier and cheaper to hold onto the donors you have than to acquire new ones. Acquiring new donors is expensive, and the same Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report found that only about 26.6% of first-time donors returned to contribute again.

You want to avoid what the Queen of Hearts describes to Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”


You can retain more donors with a certain kind of thank you note. It’s simple, polite, and free.

Ms. Jones’s Tips to Thanking:

The Basics:

  • As in PR, first you get their name, and preferred salutation(s) right.

  • Who’s thanking? The note may come from the person who requested the gift, CEO, relevant program officer, or a combination of these.

  • Mention the gift amount.

Personalizing tips:

  • Include a fond memory or experience you shared with the donor

  • Have several staff members sign the card, each in different ink: the equivalent of a group hug

  • Have a gift beneficiary share their story, the positive impact it’s made on their lives

Engaging tips:

  • Invite the donor to volunteer

  • Invite the donor to call/email the signatory (or other named person)-include contact info

  • Say you hope to see them at an upcoming event or meeting, giving specifics

In personal ‘thank you’ notes, avoid the following:

  • Do NOT use this as an opportunity to ask for more money.

  • Do NOT use complicated words or jargon–connect via simple/emotional communication.

  • Do NOT bore them! Let your genuine excitement and appreciation shine through.

Be creative. Thank in ways that play to your strengths. If you’re social, try thank-a-thons, calls, and visits. If you’re more reserved, write heartfelt, handwritten notes, using some of the tips above.

Express your gratitude well, and your donors will feel acknowledged and validated. Well-thanked donors are twice as happy, once when they make a gift and again when thanked.

Saying thank you is easy, it’s important, and, as your mother taught you, it’s the right thing to do.

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” Gertrude Stein

You’ll find more fundraising tips and techniques inNonprofit Hero, Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising, available onAmazon, or for free from your local library. And via my blog,  Twitter, Facebookand LinkedIn pages. Schedule a game-changing board retreat that’ll turn your volunteers into Nonprofit Fundraising Heroes, contact  

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