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Donor Participation Project

How to Shift Donors from Occasional to Regular Giving

Nonprofit organizations depend on the generosity of donors to fund their important work. While one-time donors are appreciated, regular givers provide a stable base of support. According to recent research, only 33% of Americans donate to the same charity on an ongoing basis. How can nonprofits encourage more occasional donors to become regular contributors?

Focus on participation, not just dollars.

Make donor retention and frequency a top priority metric, not just total funds raised. Regular givers are more valuable over the long run. Set specific goals around converting one-time donors to repeat donors.

Understand donors’ motivations.

Donors give for two main reasons: to support the organization’s mission (the “collective good” motive) or for internal reasons like reducing guilt or gaining social approval (the “input” motives). Tailor your appeals to match donors’ key motivations. For example, emphasize the impact of donors’ gifts for the collective good motive or highlight social approval for input motives.

Listen and build relationships.

Conducting in-depth interviews with donors, like the successful program at Georgetown University, can reveal their passions and values. Listen to understand their motivations better and to make them feel valued. Then, craft more targeted fundraising appeals that resonate with their interests. Over time, these relationships can turn occasional givers into regular supporters.

Test different strategies.

Try various techniques like matching funds, seed funding, and social pressure to see which are most effective with your donors. But evaluate the long-term impact, not just immediate results. For example, while matching campaigns may boost short-term giving, they could reduce future donations if they primarily trigger feelings of guilt. Test and iterate to find the right formula for your organization.

Make the next generation a priority.

Children often mimic their parents’ philanthropy but need help making giving a habit. Educate families about your mission and engage children through programs like “read to donate” campaigns. Building lifelong donors starts young.

With creativity and persistence, nonprofits can shift occasional donors to become regular supporters. A focus on participation, understanding motivations, cultivating relationships, experimenting thoughtfully, and engaging the next generation are proven strategies to turn more one-time givers into long-term philanthropic partners.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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