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The Magic of Milestones

Nonprofits work very hard on recruiting new donors, but the fact that 50-80% first time donors do not give a second gift is an indication that we can make improvements in retaining donors. I was recently asked to explain a retention strategy that I think works well but do not see many organizations employing. My answer? Celebrate Milestones!


Donors love and continue to support organizations that celebrate them and the impact of their giving. However, you cannot throw the same celebration every time someone gives, or it the effect of the celebration would wear off, making it less and less special. One way to keep donors engaged without making every single interaction uniquely customized is to celebrate milestones. That is, to create special campaigns for when your donors achieve a specific goal or threshold. Here are some examples:


  • First-Time Gift: Your organization ought to do something special for first-time donors. Within 24-48 business hours of someone making their first gift, be sure to celebrate the donor in a special way. (If your small organization cannot execute it in this timeframe, it is still worth doing it.)


  • Total Lifetime Giving: If someone’s giving exceeded a certain threshold (say $100,000 in their lifetime) it’s a good time to send them an extra-special thank you. The thresholds should be set based on your organization’s reality.


  • Years of Involvement/Giving: Just like Total Lifetime Giving celebrates a dollar amount, it can be equally powerful to celebrate years or numbers of gifts. Celebrating a donor who has given 5 years in a row, celebrating a donor’s 100th gift, thanking a donor for their 50th monthly gift, are all examples or extra engagements that will make your donors feel as awesome as they truly are.


  • Other examples of milestones worth celebrating are:

  • Year-To-Date Giving Milestones (number of gifts or dollar amounts). It can be helpful to tie these to donor circle amounts.

  • Volunteering or Board Member Milestones (Years or months involved)

  • Impact Milestones (# of meals given, students sponsored, etc.)

  • In-kind Milestones (# of cans donated, pounds of food given, etc.)

  • Corporate Milestones (# of years giving a grant, number of matching gifts, etc.)


I encourage you to consider celebrating milestones at your organization. I promise that with consistent implementation of one or a few of these you will see better retention and increased giving.

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