How to Retain Donors Acquired During COVID Banner

How to Retain Donors Acquired During COVID

Advice for human service organizations in 2021

by Suzanne Battit

Senior Vice President

Posted January 18, 2021

Throughout COVID, and especially during the early months, human service organizations have experienced an influx of new donors, both small and large. Now, as we look to the year ahead, the question on many leaders’ minds is, “How do we retain them?” Naturally, retaining all new donors won’t be possible. But developing a strong and comprehensive strategy, with the goal of retaining 10-15%, is critical – to building a pipeline of major gifts, strengthening current or future campaign efforts, and/or discovering prospective future board members.


In this article, we outline the four components of an effective donor retention strategy, along with helpful questions to ask yourself to measure the strength of your current practices.

Donor Retention Strategy graphic

1. A strong and supported major gifts team

To retain as many donors as possible who are major gift prospects, you need to have a major gifts team that is trained and skilled in donor retention and has ample capacity to focus on this priority.

Questions to consider:

  • Are your major gift officers’ portfolios already too large for them to manage?
  • If so, do you have enough new major donor prospects to warrant a new major gift officer?
  • Has your team developed an effective strategy and the right talking points to focus on new donor engagement?
  • Is your team creating and communicating the most compelling and impactful story possible?

Investing in your team—whether it be through training, strategy sessions, and/or additional hires with specific skillsets—is crucial.

2. An up-to-date, robust and well-utilized database

A strong, well-deployed fundraising team needs a great database, along with clear and strategic protocols, to be successful.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your current database work for your team today? And is it core to the daily function of your team?
  • Does your database manager have what they need—in terms of support, training, and capacity—to manage a growing database?
  • Are your database protocols aligned with best practices?
  • Do you fully utilize your database’s potential such that you can have an effective moves management program for new donors?
  • Is your data capture robust enough to segment donors effectively?

If you answered no to any of these questions, and you have the financial capability to do so, now’s a prime time to upgrade your database.  

3. A robust and sophisticated annual fund program

Organizations with robust annual fund programs prior to the pandemic had the critical networks and donor loyalty they required to expand fundraising activity and weather COVID’s first wave. That won’t change in this new year.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your team have the necessary annual fund expertise? And are there best practices in place?
  • Do you have enough team members to manage an ongoing, robust annual giving program?
  • Does your team have the tools they need to identify future major gifts prospects?
  • Are you investing in strong, compelling stories to boost your annual fund messaging?

Discover more strategies to support your annual fund in my recent blog, “Annual Giving Strategies for 2021.”

4. Compelling and tailored messaging

While your organization continues to respond to the negative impact of COVID on your constituents, your messaging needs to expand beyond the pandemic. For example, highlight the impact of your work as opposed to the high cost of doing it.

Questions to consider:

  • Are you refreshing content regularly?
  • Are the results of your work front and center on your website and in all external messaging?
  • Are you creating a library of stories to use as appropriate?
  • Does the team have a good script that speaks specifically to a prospect with “new donor” language – in writing or by phone/zoom? (Consider this example as a starting point, if not: “We are so very grateful for the many donors who joined us this past year during COVID. I cannot tell you how impactful it will be if you can renew your support again this year…”)

Being able to illustrate your impact and results in ways that are qualitative and quantitative will be key.

• • •

Have questions, comments, or ideas on ensuring a strong donor retention strategy? Then I would love to hear from you! Please reach out to me at

Stay up-to-date on the latest nonprofit news

Related Posts