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  • How To Use Email to Simplify Donor Retention – 3 Sample Emails

One of the best ways your nonprofit can use email is for donor retention. It’s simple, it’s fast, and it does not take a lot of time and planning.

It also is perfect for donors that have already given to you, because it seems personal. They likely gave you their email address when they gave a gift. That means they want you to communicate! They are expecting you to be in touch.

donor retention sample letters

First, Why Should Nonprofits Care about Donor Retention?

The simple answer is that because you spend so much time getting donors, retaining them only makes sense. Do you spend all of your Saturdays for 3 months looking for a new home with a realtor just so you can sell it and buy a different one soon after you move in? No! Time is money. You found the donors that like you already. That was the hard part. Keeping them is much easier.

The trend in the nonprofit world is to focus on the getting, and not the retaining. And that focus is devastating to their bottom line. The 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (surveying 13,601 nonprofits) found that the donor retention rate was only 45% in 2017, a drop from 2016, and part of a ten year trend where it lingers below 50%. (Also read: 5 Ways To Avoid Donor Abandonment)

The data makes a solid case for focusing on donor retention:

“Reducing losses by 10 percentage points—from 55% to 45%—would also double the net from 10% to 20%. And, a reduction of losses by 20 percentage points—to 35%—would triple the net to 30%. It usually costs less to retain and motivate an existing donor than to attract a new one. For most organizations—and especially those that are sustaining losses or achieving only modest net gains in gifts and donors—taking positive steps to reduce gift and donor losses is the least expensive strategy for increasing net fundraising gains.”

Also read: 8 Tips for Your Nonprofit’s Spring Appeal

The Simplest Donor Retention Plan – an Email Schedule

Fundraisers will probably tell you that they understand these statistics. They are ignoring the truth because they do not have time. Likely, they think they have to spend hours meeting with and calling their donors to keep them, and they push off the work until it just does not get done.

Using email, through a simple plan for donor stewardship, is a time-friendly solution! Setting up an email schedule, and regularly communicating, will likely do enough to keep the majority of your donors happy. Happy donors are retained donors.

Make Sure You Have a Good Donor List Prepared

If you have a CRM system and update it regularly, you know you can easily download an email list. The idea of an email list can be scary for the thousands of smaller nonprofits or grassroots charitable causes that do not have a formal software. It is likely, however, that you have a database somewhere where you store the names of your donors, their gift amount, and the date of their most recent gift.

All you need to do for your email schedule is segment that list by date. A good strategy is to use quarters. Break it into who gave in the past quarter, who gave in the second, third and fourth quarters, and who gave last year but still has not given in over 12 months.

Set up a Calendar to Send Your Donor Retention Emails

You should probably send at least one email per quarter (4 a year). Keep them short, personal, and grateful. Use pictures too! A suggested calendar is to send:

  1. A thank you centered email, in the first quarter following their gift. All the donors in your segment 1 will get this, whether they sent the gift a week ago or two months ago. A good strategy is to engage your recent donors with not only a thank you, but a call to action. Name a few ways they can get involved or learn more.
  2. A mission centered email, in the second quarter, showing the wonderful work you are doing.
  3. Another mission centered email, in the third quarter, showing the wonderful work you are doing. Change the program focus, or focus on volunteers, a successful fundraising event, etc. You can send more than 2 of these! You can send these monthly or even weekly if you have time. Keeping in touch with donors and sharing what you are doing is the key.
  4. A need statement and an appeal for a gift. Here, in the fourth quarter, nearly a year after they gave, you should talk about how you need a new gift. The more you personalize this email to each donor the better. If you have hundreds on your list, try segmenting them by program area interest, age, and any other number of similarities. (Read more about donor segmentation here).Make sure another ‘thank you’ is first and foremost in the appeal! If you have time for followup calls, the best strategy is to tell them you will call in the next few weeks in the email. You can instead ask them to at least repeat their gift (and mention how much it was, often people forget how much they gave to each organization they support).

Also read: 17 Mistakes Fundraisers Can Stop Making Now


Feel free to copy it and modify the following sample email fundraising letters for your needs. For any other use, please contact us. (More fundraising letters and templates…)

Sample Thank You Email For Donor Retention

Dear Mary,

From all of us at the Saving Walruses team, thank you for joining our family! We are excited about all the wonderful work we have planned this year, to make sure that walrus habitat is conserved for future generations.

Our tusky friends are so critical to not only whale and bear survival, but for the dozens of native tribes that depend on them, especially in the Pacific Northwest. This year, through our various outreach programs, every $40 we receive ensures that a new pup makes it to her first year. That means that your gift of $150 is helping 3 families!

You can visit your families on our walrus cam, found here, 24/7. Our featured walrus, Catuka, just had twins! Our special drone footage estimates each weighing in at 95 pounds.

Your financial contribution is more than enough. But if you want to deepen your support even further, think about signing our petition to Congress to protect 100,000 more acres of critical habitat, which is under threat by local fishermen, by clicking here.

Thank you again for joining our unique family, dedicated solely to walrus research and protection. If there is anything we can do to improve your experience, or to support your learning and involvement, feel free to reach out!

Sample Mission Centered Email For Donor Retention

Dear Mary,

It’s official! We are reaching out to all our supporters to share the good news that Congress passed the wilderness zone protection act, making it illegal for fishermen to encroach on walrus territory in the north Atlantic.

As you may know, this particular species is under threat by centuries of overfishing in the Northeast. We estimate that we can improve species numbers by 10% over 5 years with this new protection, boosting numbers to a point where survival will be possible.

Thank you for signing our petitions, for reaching out, and for supporting our scientists to build a case and engage Congress! We couldn’t have done it without you. You can read more about this exciting news here.


Sample Donor Retention Gift Appeal Email

Dear Mary,

It has been a great year for Saving Walruses, and we could not have accomplished nearly as much without your support. We have 4 new conservation plans for tens of thousands of acres of critical walrus habitat. We have a new scientist advocate on board. And we have a new interactive website for school children to understand walruses and ecosystem health. Thank you.

The need though, has never been greater to continue our work. This year, our new scientist advocate is going to hit Congress and local statutory boards hard to conserve all 4 tracts outlined in the new conservation plans. To meet the demand for all the schools that are requesting walrus cams and interactive lessons, we need to hire an education coordinator as well. Stacy, who is lined up to join the team next year, will work with at least 1200 kids annually through the project.

All this wonderful work means that we need to ask our most faithful friends to consider supporting us again, and at a level as generous as possible. We will be in touch to discuss a gift in greater detail in the coming weeks.


These are just a few examples of how to design a campaign. Each organization is different. You know your donors best! If you have more time, be more personal, and follow-up more often. And remember those statistics – if you retain only 10% more this year, you will earn 20% more net fundraising. It’s worth it!

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