Why Donors Stop Donating


Key Topics

How do donors loose confidence in your nonprofit?

How to re-engage inactive donors


Strategies for Engaging Inactive Donors data chart


Donors are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization, and their value cannot be overstated – but it can be calculated.

Many fundraising and nonprofit professionals like to think that their job is different and distinct from that of people who work in sales and marketing – and in some ways it is – but the truth is that like any other business, your non-profit cannot survive without its customers: your donors.

And just like any other business, your average donor’s lifetime value can be calculated: How much do the average donor donates to your organization, multiplied by your organization’s average retention rate. For example, if your donors donate an average of $800, but you lose 70% of your donors every year, you have got a problem.

Donors stop donating to charitable causes for all sorts of reasons, from a change in their employment status to a change of their zip code, but many of the most common reasons are within your control. Understanding these factors is essential for organizations aiming to improve donor retention. A few reasons may be a loss of confidence in the organization, lack of commitment between organizations and donors, a change in an individual’s priorities, and/or a lack of personal connection.

According to QGiv.com, the recapture retention rate is on average 5%. Approximately 70% of donors contribute only once. By identifying and addressing these factors, organizations can work towards enhancing donor satisfaction, building stronger relationships, and improving donor retention. Regular communication, transparency, and demonstrating the impact of contributions are crucial elements in maintaining a positive and enduring relationship with donors.

How do donors loose confidence in your nonprofit?

Donors may feel a lack of transparency when it comes to allocating donations, the outcome of programs, or financial practices. Even if donations are being used wisely, and people are benefiting from the programs, clear communication about how funds are allocated, and the impact achieved is essential.

Poor communication, including infrequent updates, vague reports, or a lack of responsiveness to donor inquiries, can lead to a perceived lack of engagement. Donors want to feel connected to the organization and informed about its activities.

Donors want to see tangible results and the impact of their contributions. If a nonprofit fails to showcase the outcomes of its programs or initiatives, donors may question the efficacy of their support.

Failing to acknowledge and appreciate donors can make them feel undervalued. Recognition efforts should be genuine, timely, and proportional to the level of support provided.


How to re-engage inactive donors

As we navigate the landscape of donor retention, armed with insights into the intricacies of why donors may bid farewell, it is imperative to transition from understanding to action. Effective donor retention demands a proactive approach.  

Cultivate an atmosphere of transparency, ensuring donors are consistently informed about the tangible impact of their contributions. Personalize your engagement strategies—go beyond generic communication and demonstrate that each donor is valued as a unique supporter of your cause. Express genuine gratitude through handwritten notes or personalized letters, forging a connection that extends beyond a mere financial transaction. Invest in understanding your donors individually, aligning your organizational priorities with their values, and keeping their personal connection to the cause alive. In a world where distractions abound, strive to remain at the forefront of your donors’ minds through consistent, thoughtful engagement.

Remember, donor retention is not just a strategy; it’s a commitment to building lasting relationships that fortify the foundations of your organization. It’s time to embark on a journey of active donor stewardship, ensuring that your donors not only stay but become steadfast advocates for the positive change you seek to bring about.



To build a strong, sustainable fundraising machine that can survive any economic condition, just remember why donors leave in the first place:

  • They lose confidence in the organization, because they no longer feel connected to the management team, or the individuals who brought them through the door in the first place.
  • They feel the foundation, charity, or NFP doesn’t need them anymore, and redirect their dollars to a cause that does.
  • They lose their personal connection to the cause; fundraisers don’t know them as anything more than a name on a call list, or a dollar amount, and so they don’t know how to nurture that connection. The personal touch is missing.
  • They simply forget about the organization, or forget to renew their pledge, and no number of emails that go straight to their spam filter is going to remind them.

Knowing why your donors leave is a great first step towards ensuring that they never do. Great fundraisers understand that donor retention is within their control, if they’re willing to spend the time, money, and effort to manage relationships and engage their donors.


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Why Thanking Your Donors is So Important

I am always shocked to hear non-profit professionals tell me that they don’t thank their donors. The logic goes that people open their hearts and wallets to charities and non-profits because they want to help a good cause, and doing so is enough reward in and of itself.

While it’s true that selflessness and a drive to better the world is the primary motivator of many gifts, fundraising professionals who take that approach will notice their donor base dwindling, and the size of donations decreasing year over year.

The simple truth is that donor dollars are as valuable to them as they are to you, and while fundraisers may mistakenly think that donors will continue to donate as their default action, the opposite is actually true – especially in bad times.

Thanking donors is one of the easiest methods of donor retention, for a few very simple reasons:

First of all, human nature drives a lot of charitable and philanthropic activity. Donors may have selfless intentions when they make their original donations, but like any other human beings, they crave the feeling of social belonging, which is triggered by recognition.

You would be amazed how many fundraisers immediately recognize the value of putting together elaborate gala dinners to honor donors, or putting their names on billboards and buildings as an incentive to inspire their donations, but fail to recognize the same behaviors at play with a simple, $2 handwritten thank-you card.

Another benefit of thanking donors is staying top of mind. Any number of events or thoughts may have triggered their first donation to your organization – maybe they saw an effective piece of marketing material, heard about you from a friend, or were personally touched by the cause that you raise money for in the time leading up to their first donation.

What will trigger their second donation? Their third? Their ninth consecutive donation? A thank-you note makes its recipient feel good, and the more well-conceived and executed the thank-you, the more that feeling lasts. A lasting feeling of goodwill is a great way to stay top of mind next Christmas, tax season, or whenever your donors decide if and where to direct their charitable dollars.

Fundraisers should also be aware that donors tend to link an organization’s ability to keep in touch with that organization’s need for donations.

Donors may say to themselves, “if they’re not keeping in touch with me, acknowledging me, or thanking me, it’s probably because they have so many other donors to keep in touch with, to acknowledge, and to thank.” and then they may ask themselves, “if they have so many other donors, do they really need me?”

If you don’t thank your donors – if you treat them as unimportant – they will assume that they are not needed. They will direct their dollars to an organization that needs them more, not out of a selfish need to be recognized, but out of a selfless desire to have an impact where they are needed.

Finally, thank you notes are a great way to remind your donors that there are real people, and not a faceless organization, at the other end of their donation.

Donors who are never thanked have no way of knowing that their donation was received and put to good use. They throw their dollars into the abyss, and are lucky if they receive a black and white, barcoded tax receipt in a windowed envelope a year later – or worse: they hear nothing from you until you ask them for money again and again.

Thanking donors is one of the most important functions of a fundraiser – consider it a choice between saying “thank you” to your donors, or saying “goodbye” to them. It should be one of the easiest things to justify to the rest of the organization, but in case it isn’t, gently remind them of these key takeaways:

  • Saying thank you lets donors know that they are donating to real people, and not faceless organizations – a key ingredient in letting them feel that their money is put to good use.
  • Saying thank you lets your donors know that each of them is important to you, which makes them feel that your organization needs them, and doesn’t take them for granted.
  • Saying thank you in a powerful and personal way – like a handwritten note of gratitude – helps trigger long-lasting feelings of joy and goodwill, which keeps your organization top of your donor’s mind
  • Saying thank you appeals to human nature – people crave feelings of social belonging, and recognition and expressions of gratitude help them achieve those feelings

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How to be Great at Gratitude – 5 Tips for Brilliant Donor & Volunteer Thank-you Cards

So you’ve decided to send thank you notes to your donors and volunteers.

Good call!

There are few combinations of words more powerful than “Thank You.” Letting someone know that their gifts or deeds not only contributed to a good cause but also inspired personal gratitude in the recipient is the simplest way to ensure that they feel unreservedly good about the time or hard-earned dollars that they’ve parted with.

Now that you’ve decided to undertake this simple but important step, here are 5 tips to help you pack as much punch as possible into a short expression of appreciation:

1) Make it Physical

The fastest way to take the wind out of the sails of your thank-you note is to email it to the recipient.

There’s a good chance they’ll never receive it. Their spam filter may consider it junk mail.

You lose all of the emotional effect that comes with holding something physical in your hands. A nice, physical, handwritten card triggers feelings of reciprocity. When is the last time that you printed off an email and put it up on your fridge? If you’re anything like the vast, overwhelming majority of people, the answer is, “never.”

When you send a handwritten thank-you card, your recipient knows that you took the time to not only think of them, but also to physically write out an expression of your gratitude, transforming thoughts into words, and words into something physical.

Everyone knows how easy it is to send an email; the recipient may assume (sometimes correctly) that they are one of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people that you thanked simultaneously with the click of a button.

Conversely, even if you use a service like Postalgia to send handwritten notes with the ease of an email, the recipient will believe that much more work went into creating a beautiful expression of your gratitude.

2) Make it Personal

People buy from people. Products don’t sell themselves, and donations to non-profits are much the same.

Don’t be afraid to get personal in your thank-you note to donors and volunteers. Tell them how much you, as a fundraising professional, appreciate their donation.

Donors like to know that their gift did not go unnoticed into the coffers of some faceless organization. Volunteers whose efforts are ignored or lost in the crowd will quickly become ex-volunteers. Both donors and volunteers who know that they are being personally acknowledged by someone at the organization are more likely to give their money and/or time again and again, and in larger amounts.

Use their name, make specific reference to their gift or act of volunteerism, and include any other pertinent personal details that readily come to your mind (or your donor management database) such as their spouse’s or childrens’ names, the last event they attended, or something that your organization does about which they’re particularly passionate.

Postalgia empowers you to drop variables into each card, so that even if you would like to use a tried and true template (or one that is pre-approved, for that matter) as the framework of your card, you can easily personalize each and every one.

3) Make it Snappy

Mark Twain once wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

It’s true that consolidating your thoughts into a brief note is more difficult than writing a long-winded essay, but your recipients will read and cherish every word if you keep it short.

The longer the letter, the less likely the recipient is to retain the information in it. No matter how excited they are when they first rip open the envelope to reveal a handwritten thank-you card, their excitement will quickly turn to distraction as their eyes glaze over halfway through the 4th paragraph.

Remember: You’re writing a quick and powerful expression of gratitude, not the next great American novel. If you want to be great at the former, leave the latter to Mark Twain.

4) Make it About Impact

Donors especially want to know details about where their dollars are going, not only as a matter of fiscal prudence (to ensure that your organization is acting with integrity and honesty), but also because of the innate human aversion to unfinished stories.

If they wanted mystery, they would throw their dollars into a wishing well and pray for an end to Tuberculosis in Africa.

Give your donors what they want: specific, measurable details about the impact that their gift has had on the lives of the people who have benefited from it. Use hard numbers. Tell real stories. Don’t just tell them that you’re grateful; tell them exactly how they’ve had an impact, and you can be sure that they’ll want to keep on having it the next time you ask them for a contribution.

5) Make it Selfless

A thank-you note is not an opportunity to ask for more money or time.

The quickest way to ruin a note of appreciation is to try to save money on postage by including a solicitation at the end.

It’s true that one of the best ways to measure the extent to which your donors are touched by your gratitude is to watch their dollars roll in with greater frequency and in larger amounts, but make sure to keep your gratitude and your solicitations separate.

Otherwise your note seems self-serving, and all the effort you put into generating goodwill and feelings of reciprocity is ruined.

To re-cap, there are 5 key ingredients to a powerful thank-you note:

1) Make it physical – don’t send an email when you should be sending a handwritten card.

2) Make it personal – donors and volunteers can smell a form letter from a mile away.

3) Make it snappy – losing someone’s attention is a quick way to lose the power of the note.

4) Make it about impact – remind them that they’ve done good in the world, and detail how.

5) Make it selfless – Don’t ask for more money or time while thanking them for their generosity.

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