7 Personalization Tips for Retaining Volunteers (+ donors!)

Picture this: you’ve just finished your biggest fundraiser yet, calling on all of your volunteers and donors to pitch in. You review your data and results, and everything looks great. But then when you reach out to volunteers and donors to get them excited about your next event, you only hear crickets. 

What happened? Unfortunately, situations like this can happen to nonprofits without strong volunteer and donor retention strategies. While the right recruitment strategies can help your organization earn big, it’s your ability to keep your supporters that will make your nonprofit sustainable in the long run. After all, marketing to donors is expensive, and constantly re-training new volunteers isn’t exactly the best use of your team’s time. 

But even if you fear your nonprofit might have a little too much in common with our example, there’s no need to worry. It’s never too late to start improving your volunteer and donor retention rates, especially when you start using one of the top strategies around: personalization.

Personalization can (and should!) be used in almost all of your nonprofit’s usual retention strategies. Going that extra mile to make supporters feel like they, specifically, are being addressed can make all the difference in whether they support your nonprofit again, and with the right tools and practices, it’s pretty easy to do. 

To show off how your nonprofit can work in personalization to all of your donor and volunteer outreach efforts, this article will explore seven retention strategies and how personalization can give them that extra oomph to help you connect with your supporters:

  1. Personalize all communication. 
  2. Provide ways to give outside of donating. 
  3. Encourage corporate partners to create workplace giving programs. 
  4. Host a variety of events. 
  5. Show your appreciation. 
  6. Collect feedback. 
  7. Ask for support increases at the right time. 

Remember, whether you’re reaching out to brand new volunteers or reliable monthly donors, personalization works so well because the majority of your supporters are looking for the same thing from your nonprofit: a stronger connection with your organization. Strong, personal relationships are central to why most people stick around at a nonprofit for years to come, and these strategies can put you on the path to forging these connections. Let’s get started!

Want to level up your volunteer management? Get started with POINT here.

1. Personalize all communication. 

The first step to personalizing your retention strategy is to plan how you’ll personalize your communication with volunteers and donors. 

Each of your volunteers and donors is an individual, so your messages should treat them like one. Given that no one has actually ever appreciated being called “Dear Valued Supporter,” experiment message streams that address each supporter by name and reflect their individual relationship with your nonprofit. 

It might seem impossible to send unique messages to every single supporter, but remember that message templates are your friend. Use online resources to get started and tweak them to sprinkle in a few details about your specific nonprofit. 

For example, change up the language to reflect your nonprofit’s brand and relationship with the supporter. Are you a quirky and fun organization that likes to be casual with volunteers and donors? Great! Should you maybe tone it down a bit when sending more serious messages or addressing your high level donors? Probably. 

Then, use your email messaging platform to populate your templates with your donors’ personal information. Start by addressing each by name and referencing how they supported your nonprofit, whether it was by donating $25 or volunteering for four hours last week. 

Send personalized messages to do more than say thanks, too! If a donor has attended a lot of your past events, send them a personal message inviting them to your next one. Or, when you reach out to supporters to ask if they’d consider increasing their usual donation amount, reference their past activities such as volunteering, joining your advocacy campaign, or attending events to show appreciation for how long they’ve been with your organization. 

Via by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

2. Provide ways to give outside of donating. 

Has your favorite nonprofit ever asked you to consider giving a little more, and while you wanted to, doing so was just a little outside of your budget? Or, have you ever started giving to a nonprofit, but then all they send you is emails asking for even more donations? 

You can let supporters personalize how they give to your organization (and avoid badgering them for requests for additional donations) by expanding the ways your donors can support you. The added flexibility allows each supporter to give how they want, increasing the odds they’ll stay with your organization long-term. For example, if a donor isn’t able to give this month, instead of dropping out of your giving program, they’ll have other ways to keep helping out. 

Here’s three fundraising strategies your nonprofit can get started with almost immediately:

  • Passive fundraisers. Did you know your supporters can earn money for your cause just by going about their daily errands? Passive fundraisers such as grocery store programs and online shopping fundraisers generate revenue for your nonprofit when your supporters shop at participating retailers. All the money raised comes from the stores they buy from, meaning neither your nonprofit nor your supporters have to pay a cent more to help your cause. 
  • Product fundraisers. Convincing supporters to keep donating can be a bit of a hard sell sometimes. After all, in exchange for their hard-earned money, they’re only getting a warm-happy feeling. Not to discredit the power of that warm-happy feeling, but some of your supporters might also appreciate the opportunity to get something tangible in exchange for their donation, such as food or merchandise. 
  • Volunteer grants. Your volunteer’s time can literally be money if they qualify for a volunteer grant. As Getting Attention’s guide to volunteer grants explains, these are donations that employers make to nonprofits and charitable organizations their employees volunteer with. Help your volunteers check to see if they’re eligible and fill out any necessary forms. 

Psst. Need a way to track volunteer hours? Sign up for POINT for freeee here

  • In Kind Donations. Think about options for giving that supporters might have at home already. For example, a gently used book or coat drive. Utilize POINT’s in-kind needs registry to share real time needs with supporters and track your impact. 

Remember that there’s nothing stopping your supporters from using all four of these methods to give and continue making their regular donations. Giving your donors more options lets them support you however they’re able, while also opening the door to even more fundraising opportunities. This means creating more ways to give is a win for your donors and a win for you!

Be sure that your thank you messages are personalized to reflect these new types of donation methods to show supporters you see and appreciate their contributions. If a volunteer completed their grant application, send them a thank you message, or if a donor gave a whole pile of warm clothes to your homeless shelter, share the impact their specific gift had. 

3. Encourage corporate partners to create workplace giving programs. 

Do a lot of your supporters work at the same place? If so, you can connect with them even while they’re on the clock by working alongside their employer to create an employee engagement program

Workplace giving and employee engagement programs are structured giving and volunteering opportunities that give employees a new way to get more involved and help out local nonprofits. Be sure to do your research so you can target the right businesses and explain to them why this program is a good idea for both their organization and yours. 

The details of your partnership will vary depending on the business you partner with. But there are a few usual approaches workplace giving programs take. Some of them will set up designated days where their employees will come in to volunteer, whereas others might create a matching gift program

For busy supporters, establishing a workplace giving program at their place of employment might be just what they need to continue engaging with your nonprofit. Plus, if they know their donations can go further with a matching gift, they might be inclined to keep giving (and potentially in greater quantities than before)!

Once you establish a corporate partnership, segment your supporters to create an email list just for those who work at the company you partnered with. Then, whenever a volunteer day is planned or the workplace giving program is accepting applications, you can get in touch to let them know. Plus, this way you’ll avoid accidentally bomboarding supporters who don’t work for that business with emails totally unrelated to them. 

Want the easiest way to manage your CSR? Learn more about POINT for Work or talk to our team here.

4. Host a variety of events. 

Fundraising events bring your supporters together and help your nonprofit earn needed revenue. But don’t get stuck hosting the same events year after year. While some supporters might look forward to your annual bake sale, others might be interested in sampling something new. To keep your supporters engaged long-term, consider changing up your event calendar. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how nonprofits approach events, and many of donors, volunteers, and staff members may still prefer to stay socially distanced. Your event calendar can meet these concerns by offering a range of virtual, in-person, and hybrid events. This way, both supporters who want to attend in-person and those who prefer to stay at home will have something they can enjoy. 

To help brainstorm ideas, here’s a small selection of our favorite popular nonprofit events that can be hosted in-person or remotely:

  • Auctions
  • 5Ks
  • Concerts 
  • Galas
  • Conferences and workshops
  • Talent shows
  • Office tours 
  • Classes 
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Trivia nights

Donately’s peer-to-peer fundraising guide also recommends pairing your events with peer-to-peer campaigns. Doing so can increase your events’ attendance and give your volunteers a chance to share what they love about your nonprofit with their friends and family. 

Pay attention to which events your supporters attend and in what format, so you can send them personalized invitations. If you notice someone only attends your events remotely, adjust your communication to only send them invites to virtual and hybrid events. Or, if a donor won big at your past auction, reference their prize and congratulate them in your invitation to your next auction. 

5. Show your appreciation. 

Imagine you’ve just wrapped up your latest online fundraiser. You check out your total revenue raised, compare it to your goal, and review your other data. But it’s not quite time to kick back and relax until your next fundraiser. After all, no fundraising campaign or event is over until you’ve thanked your donors and volunteers. 

Saying thank you is one the easiest ways to retain your volunteers and donors. Each time they contribute their time or donate, you should say thanks. It’s as simple as that, but there are a few ways you can make your appreciation go even further:

  • Thank supporters regularly. Knowing their donations and volunteer time are going to a good cause can be thanks enough for many. But many others would also appreciate a thank you! Let your supporters know you care with a thank you message after each donation, campaign, and fundraiser. 
  • Share your supporters’ impact. Volunteers and donors get excited when they learn what their hard work has accomplished. When sending out your thank you messages, tell your supporters about how their specific donations and volunteer hours have furthered your mission. Be sure to use examples, and don’t forget to include a few photos to help set the scene. 
    • PS – want to track volunteers in a seamless way? Sign up for POINT here and get live reporting.
  • Send small gifts. Does your nonprofit have extra merchandise lying around? If so, consider sending it to your supporters! Gifts like buttons, stickers, keychains, fridge magnets, and other small items can be an extra little perk of working with your nonprofits. 

Sending a thank you message is the perfect opportunity to show your supporters you’ve been paying attention to their contributions. Try to make these messages as specific as possible to the supporters you send them to, referencing their donation amount or how long they volunteered for, what fundraiser or initiative they contributed to, and how long they’ve been with your nonprofit. 

Keep in mind that  while these strategies are perfect for your mid-level supporters, your major donors are a different story. Major donor appreciation requires a strategy of its own that usually involves a mix of personal, one-on-one conversations and public recognition. Pay attention to all of your donors’ preferences as everyone likes to be thanked in their own way.

Via Manuel Cosentino on Unsplash

6. Collect feedback.

From hosting appreciation events to sending out personal thank yous, there are so many ways to retain your volunteers. But the most straightforward way is to improve your volunteer program! After all, if your volunteers had a fun, rewarding experience helping out your nonprofit, why wouldn’t they want to come back?

Of course, unless you’re out there everyday working alongside your volunteers, you may not be sure exactly what your volunteers are looking for from your volunteer program. But there’s a surefire way to figure it out: asking them. 

Send out volunteer surveys to learn what parts of your volunteer program your volunteers enjoyed and what could be improved on. Take note of their suggestions, so you can review and implement them later during your next volunteer initiative. While you may not be able to incorporate every suggestion you get, just asking can go a long way towards building open communication with your volunteers. 

You can also check in with your donors and gather feedback about their experiences supporting your nonprofit. For example, you might ask about communication frequency, which engagement opportunities they’ve enjoyed, and what they would like to see from your nonprofit in the future. 

Even if you’re not able to implement every suggestion you get, you can act on the ones that apply to specific supporters. For instance, if you ask your volunteers and donors whether they prefer communication via email or text, adjust how you approach them based on their response. Or, if some donors say they prefer monthly communication, while others want weekly updates, create unique mailing lists for both preferences. 

7. Ask for support increases at the right time. 

Donors who have been with your nonprofit for years will only become more valuable over time as they slowly increase their level of support. Of course, to get them to increase their support, you’ll need to ask! But when is the right time?

As mentioned, repeatedly reaching out to donors only to ask for more money isn’t the best way to endear yourself to your supporters. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid asking altogether. Instead, take careful note of each supporter’s personal journey with your nonprofit so you can ask them to consider increasing their donations at just the right time. 

This right time will vary from donor to donor, but points such as the anniversary of their first donation, the start of the new calendar year, or the beginning of a brand new initiative can work for quite a few supporters. Just be sure they match up the supporter’s personal giving timeline first! After all, if a supporter just donated during the last week of December, they probably aren’t going to jump at the chance to increase their support on January first. 

Additionally, take into account how much they’re currently giving and personalize your ask to reflect it. A donor who regularly gives $100 annually probably isn’t going to be too receptive if you ask them to increase their gift to $500 a month. But if you ask them to switch to giving $10 a month, which increases their total giving without breaking the bank, they might just consider it. 

Just like your nonprofit’s mission always needs work, supporter retention isn’t a one-and-done process. Keep building your relationships with your volunteers and donors by saying thanks, giving them a variety of ways to get involved, listening to their feedback, and above all, personalizing as many aspects of their support journey as you can. Good luck!

Photo Stephanie Page
Stephanie Page
Head of Outreach

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.