You would not even think this was even a question to ponder if you attended most small nonprofit board meetings or even worse the fundraising committee meetings.

Time after time, the agenda and the discussion of those meetings mentioned above focuses on what the organization can do to acquire new donors rather than even considering strategies to retain them. Perhaps, very few of the people present have any idea of what the “numbers” reveal in relation to what part of fundraising should we focus upon.

The Hidden Numbers of Fundraising

Unfortunately, it is usually the larger nonprofit organizations, as well as the more experienced consultants, who completely understand the various hidden numbers of fundraising listed below. Perhaps, if these concepts are shared by those of you encountering or embracing these concepts for the first time the strategies listed below will become the norm!

1. Most Major Gifts are Made after 5 Years of Giving

Hopefully, the axiom listed above makes sense since very few major gifts are made as the first, second or even the third gift to any nonprofit organization. 4-5 years also seems to be the time required to have 18-24 personalized touch points as noted in this recent major gift study to be able to successfully ask for a major gift.

So if it takes 4-5 years or longer for the majority of major gifts to happen with your donors, does it not make sense for donor retention to rise in importance? It is only through the retention of those donors for multiple years that major gifts can occur.

Now add to the hidden numbers, the fact that a single major gift, especially a truly significant one of six figures or more can be more than all of the gifts from newly acquired donors for the entire year!

2. Lifetime Value Rules Over All

Once an understanding of lifetime value of a donor is understood by the entire team at any nonprofit engaged in fundraising the importance of retaining as many donors as possible emerges.

For a quick refresher, lifetime value is the total amount contributed over a donor’s lifetime. This can literally be thousands of dollars even for smaller direct mail donors.

Therefore, the extra effort or perhaps even an additional staff member utilized to make even smaller donors very special and as such retained over the course of numerous years can pay huge dividends. The lifetime value numbers add up quickly.

3. Higher Costs to Acquire Donors Versus Retaining Them

The third concept might truly ring home with any CFO of your charity because the cost savings happen in the short term whereas the major gift and lifetime value concepts take years to illustrate the return on investment.

The cost to continually acquire new donors can easily run 50% to 100% more than the dollars collected from them. In fact, it can be several years before any charity breaks even on dollars raised compared dollars spent.

For most charities investing that same amount spent acquiring new donors on creating meaningful touches with existing donors can result in the higher rates of return spelled out in the first two concepts presented.


Like so many concepts in life it is often the hidden numbers, which are not readily apparent that make major differences come to light. Many of you reading this blog post have experience with all of the hidden concepts mentioned above and might be able to shed even more light upon them via a comment or two below.

Please put the above concepts to use as you plan for the coming year. You and your team should cherish the difference it can make in funding your mission in the New Year and for many years into the future.

Stay Together - How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.