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7 Tips for Donor Retention

When it comes to fundraising, there's one rule of thumb which, while undeniably important, is oft-overlooked:

Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other, gold.

Don't get me wrong: donor acquisition is of no small importance. However, organizations often focus their energy on broadening their base of support, rather than cultivating relationships with those donors who have already shown their commitment and enthusiasm by donating. These donors are already aware of the work you're doing, and believe in it to the extent that they're willing to help you make it happen. While it's essential to grow your circle of support, it can also be expensive (producing new marketing and solicitation materials) and time consuming (researching and compiling lists of potential supporters and often reaching out to them multiple times before they donate).  Your existing donors have already proven their commitment to your work, and might be willing to give again, and maybe even give more. Here are some simple tips to help encourage your donors to continue giving:

  • Say thank you. As soon as a gift is made, it's important to thank your donor. This is the first step, not only in showing gratitude for the donation you receive, but in keeping your donor interested and encouraged to give again.

  • Let your donor know how the gift was used. This donation was given to help make your art happen, and it's important to show your donor that it did just that. Letting your donor know that the funds were used for space rental or to pay the artists working with you (for example) shows how the gift directly benefits your work. It allows your donor to feel included in your artistic process.

  • Stay in touch. It's important to keep supporters (donors, audience, etc) in the loop with what you're working on. Sending out newsletters or updates to your donors keep them excited about your work, showing how their support has helped you grow and flourish. Tools like and Mailchimp allow you to keep important information about your donors (contact info, attendance and giving history) in one place, so that you can easily maintain regular contact.

  • Invite your donor. If you're having an event, make sure your donor is on the guest list. Meeting your donors and sharing your work with them is important, as it helps show them how their donations benefited your work. Invite them not only to showings of your work, but to receptions, parties, fundraisers, or even to rehearsal. Introduce them to the artists who work with you and show them what you're working on together : this helps them feel an integral, essential, and welcome part of your process.

  • Ask them to donate regularly. If you have ongoing funding needs, encourage your donors to make a monthly or recurring donation. This allows them to donate over time, contributing to your work in a meaningful, continuous way.

  • Thank them publicly. Except for those who have asked to remain anonymous, shout your donors' names from the rooftops. Include a list of supporters on your website, in your monthly newsletter, and in your programs and other marketing materials. If you're running a crowdfunding campaign, thank them on social media. Sharing your gratitude with the world not only helps your donors feel appreciated, but helps others see the importance and necessity of donating, and might get other donors (new and repeat) excited about giving as well.

  • Just keep saying thanks. I obviously can't emphasize this enough. Write them a thank you note, send them an e-mail, and thank them in person if you see them. You couldn't have made your work without your donor : please don't forget that, and don't let your donor forget either.

The name of the game here may seem overly simple but it's important : stay in touch and say thanks. Your donors will feel acknowledged and appreciated, and an integral part of what they donated to support in the first place. And hopefully this means they'll also continue to support you - not only by donating, but by attending your events, checking out your art, and sharing your work with their friends and other potential donors. Not only will this save you on marketing costs, but the word of mouth you and your donors generate can be a marketing tool in and of itself. By cultivating an existing base of supporters, you're cultivating a community that will help your art not only happen, but grow and thrive.