As a charity, you’ll know that it’s imperative for you to calculate your donor retention rate, but you may not know that for every two donors you gain, you lose three more. In this piece, we’ll explore how you can retain your donors during times of financial crisis. 

#1 Keep your donors in the loop 

Did you know donors are three times more likely to donate online?

With that in mind, it’s essential that you send more online campaigns than you do by post. You’ll stay aligned with core values while spreading your message.

Don’t hide it. Times are hard. Your donors know this; tell them you understand what a difficult situation they might be in and be honest with them. If the charity is struggling, share this with your donors and what strategies you’re implementing to cope with this difficult time.

Get their input. Ask for opinions from your donors through surveys. This way, you stay in the know about what your donors are experiencing and how they’re feeling about your campaigns. 

Share insights. Did you know that giving feedback on progress towards goals can motivate people to change their behaviour or keep up the desired behaviour? Sharing feedback on how donations are being used to support your charity’s goals (or how close/far you are from completing these goals) can help reassure donors that their contributions are making a difference. It may even encourage them to donate more. At a minimum, it's a good idea to publicly communicate how even a small donation can make a difference. For example, Oxfam breaks down how each £1 they receive is spent - highlighting the cost of individual items impacts how donors feel about donating and increases their affinity with the cause. Below we’ve included a great example from one of our clients, Christian Aid.

#2 Leverage email marketing for comms

Keeping donors engaged with your charity cause is exceptionally important in making them feel valued. Email marketing is a great tool for achieving this, but you must keep your database up-to-date. 

Ensure compliance. Double-check that your data complies with data laws such as GDPR by ensuring your database is protected by an opt-in, i.e. you’re not just automatically opting users into your emails, and you’re giving them opportunities to unsubscribe. 

Keep it clean. Regular maintenance of your email database should be carried out to remove hard bounces from your lists. Some platforms do this automatically, but doing so helps improve deliverability rates and engagement. 

Create a VIP list. To retain your donors and make them feel valued, ensure you’re not sending them the same blanket emails as everyone else. Segment your database in whichever way works best for you but be sure to send tailored content to your donors. True personalisation is much more than ‘Hi Name’

Don’t be greedy. Put donors who have recently paused payments or donated into separate lists geared towards communication and sharing the cause’s impact, as opposed to driving donations. Respecting circumstances is super important to retaining their ongoing support. 

Plus, email marketing is a much greener way of communicating with your donors. While you might not be a climate change-focused charity, email helps reduce waste and better aligns you with the general values of giving. Plus, donors might be put off if they feel their donations are being spent on wasteful post. 

#3 Spend more time thanking and less time asking

It’s a tricky time, financially, for many of us. Given your donors' generosity to continue contributing to your cause during difficult economic times, it’s important to recognise their input and thank them for this if you want to retain their custom in the future. 

It would be beneficial to make sure donors feel valued and appreciated too. “Offering your donors a gift has several benefits. It makes donors feel thanked tangibly and makes them feel like part of an exclusive club.” Plus, research has shown that a gift as small as a sweet can positively impact the likelihood and size of a donation. This is due to the reciprocity bias - when someone does something for us (gives us a sweet in this case), we feel more obliged to give something in return. 

Do consider if this is right for your charity, though and how you think your donors would feel about receiving a gift. Simple pin badges help spread the word about the cause while making the donor feel valued. Whereas tote bags, notepads or umbrellas always go down well and are a constant reminder of the good work your charity is going - they’re also a great way to continue marketing your cause. 

#4 Invest in your online customer experience

Now is a really good time to invest in your persona discovery research and assess the customer experience of your donor journeys. This process is a great way to identify potential blockers and pain points returning donors could be experiencing that might be causing friction in their journey with you. 

Understanding donation behaviours is much more than just looking at the data or telling a good story. To really understand what moves your audience to donate, you should open up conversations with them to find out what's important to them and consider how to apply these learnings to future campaigns. This project is also a great opportunity to reach out to your existing donors for something other than a donation; their feedback - and this request can be positively received when handled correctly. 

If you’d like to learn more about how Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) can improve donor engagement and donations, take a read of this article from our Head of Customer Experience, Thom Standen

#5 Build a social community 

Social media is a great way to build relationships with new and existing donors. It’s a place where charities can get creative and, since so many of us are glued to our phones anyway, it's the perfect place to spread your message. 

Organic posts are a great way to build awareness, trust and credibility with your donors. Organic posts can provide updates and insights into current events, news impacting your cause, how donations are being spent and the overall impact of your work. You can leverage user-generated content from your corporate sponsors, photos from fundraising events, videos and insights from your behind-the-scenes employees as well as statistically led graphics for impact, photos from volunteer days and testimonials. 

You can also use your social channels as a form of two-way communication; asking for feedback, testimonials, and setting polls for education or fun insights. Social is a great way to educate your donors while keeping them engaged and making them feel part of the conversation. You could even set fun challenges for your followers to take part in and then share these on your channels, amplifying your message while making them feel part of the cause in a different, more public way. Ultimately, creating engaging content that encourages a 2-way conversation is a much more sustainable way of gaining donors, trust and loyalty than simply asking for money for your cause. 

Key Takeaways

There you have it, my five tips on retaining donors during a recession. To recap: 

  • Keep donors in the loop - communication is key 
  • Leverage email marketing - but keep it clean, and don’t forget to segment 
  • Thanking donors can lead to higher levels of affinity and increase donations
  • Invest in your online experience to maximise donations 
  • Build a social community with your audience 

If you’d like to speak to one of our strategists about how Reflect Digital could support your donor retention strategy,  please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you. 





From diary management to team support, organising team events to invoicing, throw in a little HR support and keeping the fridge stocked, Amy is on hand with a smile to help the office run smoothly and keep the team happy. 

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