Online giving is one of the fastest growing segments of philanthropic activity. According to the 2016 M+R Benchmarks Study, online revenue was up 19% in 2015 with 13% of online gifts being made from mobile devices.

However, donor retention rates continue to stagnate. Since 2013, the median donor retention rate sector-wide has been only 43%.

What’s going on here?

We know from multiple studies that donors lapse due to poor communication, and that they stay loyal when they truly feel appreciated.

One of the best opportunities to steward your donors is the first opportunity: the gift acknowledgement. For online donors, the first gift acknowledgement typically comes in the form of an email.

And I believe these emails are a primary culprit for high donor attrition rates.

The biggest issue plaguing online giving are poor email confirmations

The email confirmation, sometimes referred to as the email receipt (more on that later), is the email message automatically generated by your online giving platform (whether it’s standalone or integrated into your donor database).

Ideally, it’s sent to your donor within seconds of their donation. For a first-time donor, it is literally the first piece of donor communications they ever receive from you.

They’re also typically the worst.

Every year, I make an online donation to 50 random nonprofits in one metro area. Below is just a small sampling of the kinds of email confirmations that are pervasive in the nonprofit sector:

omaha-receipt6 omaha-receipt4 omaha-receipt2 omaha-receipt3 omaha-receipt1 omaha-receipt5

I’ve seen gas station receipts that inspire more warm and fuzzies. In fact, many businesses make good use out of the humble receipt.

Luckily, it’s a quick one-time fix

Improving the quality of your email confirmation is not only incredibly simple and easy, but easily accomplished in a matter of minutes.

Here are a few ways to immediately transform your donation email confirmation from a boring, transactional message to something transformational:

  1. Remove the word “receipt” from the subject line. You did not just sell a gallon of milk. You received a donation.
  2. Change the sender from a role-based email (like finance@nonprofit.org) to an email address belonging to an actual human. Donors give to humans, not robots. Check the sender name as well, and make sure it is either your org name or a staff member’s name.
  3. If your email does not include tax information, add a note that says you’ll be sending that shortly. Don’t give your donors any reason to worry.
  4. Put a donor-centric outpouring of appreciation, which includes an explanation of how the donation will be used, as close to the top of the email as you can.
  5. Say thank you. Multiple times. You’d be surprised how few of these emails actually do.
  6. Let the donor know what comes next (an email newsletter, a letter in the mail, etc.).
  7. Give them something to do next, like visit your Facebook page or watch a video. You’ve already got their attention, so capitalize on it!

So carve out some time in your schedule to optimize your email confirmation. Be sure to check out my 19-Point Donation Acknowledgement Email Checklist for more ways to immediately make your online donors fee like the special snowflakes they are.

And don’t be afraid to follow-up with a phone call (for first-time donors) or a handwritten note (for repeat donors).

The Art & Science of Digital Donor Retention

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member, and sits on the faculty of the Institute for Charitable Giving. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers - How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media.
Steven Shattuck