Donor Gifts 101: Find and Retain Recurring Donors

Donors are what keep nonprofit organizations going, which is why prioritizing them is crucial for any nonprofit’s success. However, it can be a delicate balancing act to attract (and retain!) donors without putting them off. The best approach is to cast a wide net when attracting donors, and then continuing to engage with donors in a genuine fashion thereafter.

One of the best ways to attract and keep potential donors is to offer gifts. The best part? These gifts don’t have to be expensive, so long as they’re thoughtful and relevant to the organization. For those who aren’t sure where to start, keep reading to learn more about how to find and retain recurring donors and what sort of donor gifts they might appreciate.

Why Recurring Donations Matter

The numbers don’t lie: Recurring donors are a bigger source of donations than one-time donors. According to the 2018 Benchmark Report, recurring donors are worth 5.4% more than one-time donors over a lifetime. In a single year, that number jumps even higher, with recurring donors giving 42% more than one-time donors.

Clearly, recurring donors are worth attracting; the question many organizations have is how to get them. The answer comes in two parts. First, nonprofits need to actually attract donors in the first place. Then, organizations have to implement a strategy to keep them donating again and again.

How to Attract Donors

First things first: an organization needs first-time donors in order to convert them into recurring donors. So, the initial goal should be to attract as many potential donors as possible. Three popular ways to do so are:

  1. Brushing up the nonprofit’s mission statement, so people know exactly what the organization is about
  2. Offering them gifts, such as customized keychains or testimonials from benefactors of their donations
  3. Appealing to their emotions – Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA videos are great examples of this concept

How to Keep Donors in 5 Easy Steps

Donor cultivation is hard. Donor retention is harder. The donors showed up, so the job now is to keep them giving.

1. Continuously Engage

One of the best ways to attract recurring donors is through continuous engagement. It’s possible to do so in several ways, such as:

  • Informing them of what’s going on in the organization through newsletters
  • Sending recurring gifts based on their donation amounts
  • Emailing them special holiday videos

In order for donor engagement to work, donors need to provide their physical address, phone number, and/or email address, which they can do when they donate. It’s also important to be strategic about engaging with past donors. Continually spamming them with donation requests may just annoy them to the point that they refuse to donate in the future.

2. Show Thanks

Everyone likes being appreciated, which is why nonprofits should extend that courtesy to both donors and volunteers. This gratitude will make them happier, which means they are more likely to continue associating with such organizations in the future. Creative ways to show volunteer and donor appreciation include:

  • Sending them handwritten thank you notes – It’s a good idea to personalize the letter as much as is possible and appropriate
  • Hosting a thank you dinner each year – This options allows for face-to-face conversations between volunteers and donors, which fosters a sense of community
  • Calling donors and volunteers to personally thank them – Using the volunteer’s or donor’s name is a great way to personalize phone calls and show genuine gratitude
  • Shoutouts on social media – If every party consents, it’s possible to give a shoutout to volunteers as well as old and new donors on one of the nonprofit’s social media platforms

3. Make Donating Easy

People are more likely to donate if the process is easy.

For online donation, having an easy-to-use “recurring donation” button on a website or drawing attention to the donation page makes it easier for potential recurring donors to find out where they can donate. Hiding the donation portal deep within an obscure webpage means less people are likely to find it, which in turn means less people are likely to give in the first place.

For offline solicitation, face-to-face meetings can be a gamble, as not everyone is receptive to this strategy. In some cases, it’s better to try a less aggressive strategy, such as sending a physical letter to potential donors and past donors alike to ask for donations.

4. Give Gifts

There aren’t many people who don’t enjoy receiving gifts. Giving gifts to donors and volunteers shows that you appreciate them, and they receive something tangible for their efforts. Possible ways to give include:

  • Sending a one-time welcome gift to donors who sign up for recurring donations
  • Sending recurring thank you gifts based on donation amounts or to active volunteers

These gifts don’t have to be big; oftentimes, a thoughtful small gift is more than enough to show others that they are valued.

5. Personalize When Possible

Building relationships with people who donate is key to retaining them. It’s important to be genuine when thanking donors; they’ll know when organizations are being disingenuous and just trying to milk them for more money. That’s why it’s important to express gratitude in a way that is both personal and appropriate.

10 Donor Gift Ideas

For organizations that decide that donor gifts are the best route for engaging donors, they’ll have to be strategic about what they send. It’s a good idea to send donors something they’ll actually appreciate. That means making gifts high quality, practical, and/or unique (aka saying goodbye to the cliché charity tote bag).

Donor gift ideas include:

  1. Handwritten note or painting
  2. Coffee and coffee mug
  3. Post card with a personalized message
  4. T-shirt with the organization’s logo
  5. Book
  6. Journal
  7. Monogrammed keychain, water bottle, stickers, or throw
  8. Flowers or seeds
  9. Naming a part of the facility after them (for major donors)
  10. Putting donor names on display in the facility (often reserved for major donors)

While donor gifts are great, spending too much on them can set a budget back. That’s why many organizations give gifts based on donation amounts (i.e., segmenting donors into donation brackets and giving certain gifts only to certain brackets).

What are DAFs and How Do They Work?

DAF stands for donor-advised fund, and it is a vehicle for charitable donations that a sponsoring organization establishes. Individuals or organizations can put cash and non-cash assets into accounts that the sponsoring organization then manages. The funds in such accounts should ultimately be distributed as charitable gifts. In short, DAFs act like charitable investment accounts.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust’s 2020 Donor-advised Fund Report, contributions to DAFs in 2019 exceeded $38 billion. Considering how popular DAFs are, soliciting funds from people with stewardship of such accounts could result in significant donations.

Pros and Cons of a Donor-advised Fund

While donor-advised funds work well for some people, they’re not for everyone.


Individuals or organizations with a DAF can reap the following benefits:

  • Immediate tax benefits
  • Regulated differently than other charitable vehicles, like qualified charitable distributions (QCDs)
  • Easier to donate appreciated non-cash assets


The drawbacks for setting up a DAF include:

  • Funds managed by another entity (although donors keep some advisory privileges)
  • Individuals no longer have ownership over assets they put into their trust
  • People cannot retrieve assets already put into their trusts

Final Thoughts

Collecting donations is crucial for keeping nonprofit organizations up and running. Since recurring donors are typically better sources of donations, finding and retaining donors is a key strategy for maintaining a reliable stream of incoming donations. Donor happiness often determines whether or not people will donate to an organization again. Donor gifts and genuine thank you messages go a long way to building relationships with donors and encouraging them to continue associating with a nonprofit.

Managing fundraisers, donations, and donors can be a complex process; let us here at Brick Fundraiser make it just a little easier. Download our FREE book, where we can walk you through the entire fundraising process.

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