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Bob Happy 19 min read

Supporter Retention: 5 Ways To Improve Supporter Relationships

As a nonprofit professional, you’re likely always thinking about ways to improve your supporter retention rate. Your retention rate measures how many supporters (donors, volunteers, ambassadors, community partners, etc.) continue helping your nonprofit over time. For example, you can calculate your donor retention rate by dividing the number of repeat donors you have this year by how many donors gave last year. 

The most effective way to improve supporter retention is to build strong relationships with your audience. When you engage with new supporters and make authentic connections, you can encourage them to support you over the long term. 

However, strong supporter relationships don’t just appear out of the blue—it takes intentional relationship-building efforts to retain supporters year after year. In this guide, we’ll explore five effective ways to grow your supporter relationships and improve your retention rate, including: 

  1. Recruit your supporter stewardship team.
  2. Thank supporters frequently for their involvement.
  3. Personalize supporter outreach. 
  4. Engage with supporters on a variety of platforms. 
  5. Plan engaging appreciation events.

Whether you’re looking to maintain donor support after a capital campaign or turn new volunteers into dedicated, long-term helpers, these tips will help you get to know your supporters and maintain their engagement. 

1. Recruit your supporter stewardship team.

Your stewardship team will drive your supporter relationship-building and retention efforts forward. Each member will play a unique role in engaging with supporters to give them the best supporter experience possible. 

Consider recruiting these individuals to your stewardship team: 

  • Staff members. Involving staff members in your retention strategy is important because these team members interact and work with your supporters daily. For example, your volunteer coordinator will offer insight into your organization’s most engaged volunteers and what volunteers from different shifts were able to accomplish. Your staff members will also carry out more routine supporter stewardship activities, such as calling donors to thank them for their gifts or planning appreciation events. 
  • Board members. Your board members can play an essential role in carrying out your donor recognition and retention strategy. Board members are some of your organization’s most important, visible leaders not only in your organization, but in the entire community. Donors like to know that they’re being recognized by your organization’s most influential leaders. 
  • Other leaders at your organization. Other leaders at your organization, such as your fundraising director or executive director, will play a similar role as your board members. They’ll oversee your supporter retention efforts from the top level and host one on one meetings with high-level supporters, like major donors, to maintain these critical relationships.

Meet with your stewardship team regularly to assign responsibilities and ensure everyone is on the same page. To jumpstart your team, set a few goals, such as a target for your donor or volunteer retention rate. This gives your team something to work toward and a way to measure progress. 

2. Thank supporters frequently for their involvement.

One of the most critical elements of supporter retention is expressing gratitude and reassuring supporters that their involvement makes a difference. When supporters know your organization appreciates and values them, they’ll be more likely to stay engaged with your cause. 

Use these tips to build a more engaging appreciation approach: 

  • Personalize thank-you messages. Address thank-you messages with supporters’ names and mention their specific gifts. For example, thank them for their $27 gift or the 2,000 pounds of food they helped sort during your last volunteer day. Also, consider writing out your thank-you notes by hand. This can make donors feel special because it shows you put in extra effort to connect with them.
  • Highlight supporters’ positive impact. Provide campaign updates to show donors that you’re using their gifts as expected. Let supporters know when you’re breaking ground on the new playground they helped fund, or take a photo of the mountain of supplies you purchased for your animal shelter with the help of their funds.  
  • Call supporters to say thanks. Due to the prominence of online communications, it’s not every day people receive a phone call from an organization they support. A personal phone call from one of your board members or another leader at your nonprofit can help you stand out in supporters’ eyes. 

Show your appreciation for supporters all the time, not just after they give. Whether they attend an event, participate in a volunteer opportunity, or retweet a Twitter post, let supporters know that you appreciate their engagement, no matter what form it takes. 

3. Personalize supporter outreach. 

Along with personalizing your thank-you messages, it’s worthwhile to use the supporter information you gather to customize your other follow-up communications with your supporters. Track supporters’ involvement and interaction histories using your nonprofit CRM. Then, send follow-up messages relevant to supporters’ interests and motivations. 

For example, perhaps a certain supporter gives several times throughout the year and attends a couple of volunteer events. You might send this individual information about your monthly giving program to give them a way to standardize their recurring gifts, as well as ongoing updates on your volunteer opportunities. 

You can also create supporter segments using the data in your CRM. Segmentation involves grouping supporters based on their shared characteristics. This allows you to send more personalized email content to each group without creating an individual message for each supporter, saving your team’s time. 

4. Engage with supporters on a variety of platforms. 

Engaging with supporters across communication platforms can help you develop a more well-rounded supporter stewardship approach. Virtual communications aren’t the only necessary component of your supporter stewardship strategy—in-person interactions are just as essential.

According to Double the Donation’s fundraising statistics, 67% of donors worldwide also volunteer locally in their communities, and 56% regularly attend events. Your virtual communications allow you to deliver important information to supporters, while in-person interactions provide a chance to get to know supporters on a more personal level. 

With that in mind, here are a few channels you might consider using to steward supporters both virtually and in person: 

  • Retarget digitally. An excellent way to get your mission messages in front of your current audience and past donors is the Care2 Cultivate platform. Care2 Cultivate’s polls, quizzes & content pieces target and repeatedly engage your supporters, automatically delivering quality engagement and direct solicitation. It's a combo that's proven to boost retention and donations.
  • Social media. Social media lets you update your broader audience on your nonprofit’s activities. You can also use social media platforms to engage with supporters one-on-one by direct messaging them or commenting on their posts about your organization. 
  • Events. Engaging with supporters at events is critical to ensuring they have a good experience while interacting with your organization and staff. Whether you’re hosting a volunteer day, auction, or appreciation dinner, ensure all attendees feel comfortable and welcomed. Introduce your organization’s staff members by name to build connections with supporters. 
  • One-on-one meetings. You probably won’t have time to host a personal meeting with all of your supporters. But a one-on-one chat with significant supporters, such as major donors or long-time volunteers, can be a great way to show these individuals how much you value their ongoing engagement. Use these meetings to ask for supporters’ feedback and get to know them better. You might even offer supporters an incentive such as featuring them on your website, promoting your long-time volunteers to become shift leaders, or asking your donors if they’re interested in becoming ambassadors for your cause. 

Engaging with supporters over multiple channels ensures you aren’t overwhelming them with communications on just one or two platforms. This helps make your relationship-building efforts more natural, leading to more genuine conversations and interactions. 

5. Plan engaging appreciation events.

Supporter appreciation events allow you to thank all supporters at once and encourage supporters to get to know one another and your nonprofit’s team members better. 

Here are a few ideas for appreciation events that supporters will be excited to add to their calendars: 

  • Networking event
  • Free educational opportunities, like workshops, webinars or panel discussions
  • Appreciation gala or dinner
  • Free concert or festival

The focus of these events should be on expressing your gratitude—not recruiting supporters to help out with your next fundraising campaign or volunteer initiative. This shows supporters that your relationship-building efforts are genuine, not just something you do to earn more funding or volunteer support. 

Bonus tip: Consider working with a fundraising consultant.

If your organization’s relationship-building strategies need a more intense revamp, consider hiring a fundraising consultant. These professionals can help with anything from conducting a planning and feasibility study to creating a more well-rounded supporter stewardship strategy. 


Bob Happy

Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.