| 4 min read

Donor Retention: How Forgetting About Your Donors Leads to the Hamster Wheel Hustle

Did you know that the average donor retention rate in the nonprofit sector is only 40-50%?

When people talk about donor retention, they refer to the ‘know, like, trust’ factor and the fact that donors don’t have enough ‘trust’ in the nonprofit sector. 

Trust IS definitely an issue when it comes to funders and giving, but when I see low donor retention numbers, that signals even bigger, internal issues that are driving (or stalling) that metric, issues like….

👉 Some fundraisers have SNFS: shiny new funder syndrome. 

shiny new funder syndrome is the desire to continually move on to each next best thing

What is shiny new funder syndrome?

It’s the desire to continually move on to each ‘next best thing’ because it makes you feel good to switch to tasks that seem easier, more fun, or just plain different. And they trigger less fundraising fears.

If you’re a funder with SNFS, you’re constantly distracted, scattered, and moving a mile a minute in a way that (you pretend to hate, but) keep perpetuating in order to avoid the deeper discomforts related to fundraising. 

SNFS keeps you hustling in a way that makes you:

  • Feel like you deserve to be raising more money (because you’re working SO hard)
  • Fuels a certain level of pride because you’re hitting ‘new donor’ recruitment metrics 
  • Avoid the harder and more uncomfortable conversations around asking a donor to increase their gift

So now I’ll break each of these internal barriers/fears down. When you can shift your thoughts away from these, fundraising retention numbers skyrocket. 

👉 The Hustle Makes You Feel ‘Worthy’

non profit fundraising belief system tells us the harder we hustle, the more we deserve

Many of us have a belief system that tells us: the harder we hustle, the more we deserve. But have you ever asked yourself where that backwards belief even comes from? Or if it’s something you honestly believe? 

Personally, I 100% do not buy into that model. 

But if you do, then you’re bound to get swept up in shiny new funder syndrome by running more new campaigns, hosting more events, having as many first time meetings that you can get onto your already packed schedule. All the while, your most loyal donors aren’t hearing from you at all.

‘But how can I do it all? There aren’t enough hours in the day!’ 

The truth is, most fundraisers stick to a hustle routine and their shiny new funder syndrome because it feels more comfortable. That leads to job burnout.

Why do they stay on this path? It’s subconscious. Simply put: rejection feels scarier from a return donor. It feels like there is more at stake, so instead the chase for new ways to be told no by someone you aren’t as invested in becomes the name of the game.

When you let those fear-based stories about rejection and perfectionism run your show this way, you’ll find yourself with a low donor return rate. And the cycle continues.


👉 The New Donor Metric Cannot Be Looked at in Isolation 

Way too many organizations look at their new donor record, post it all over their impact report, but never look at their donor retention metric. This is a mistake! Yes, you want to be looking at how many new donors you’re bringing in and constantly diversifying your funders. BUT, looking at that metric in isolation gives you a skewed sense of your fundraising success. 

Instead, look at all the data together and ask:

  • What does the relationship between your new donor metric and your donor return rate say about where you were putting your energy and time?
  • What can you learn from this? 
  • What do you want to adjust for the future? 

👉 Avoidance is the #1 Culprit of a Low Donor Retention Rate

professional fundraising consultant said avoidance is the number one culprit of a low donor retention rate

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably feeling a little called out. Sorry about that.

I’m not sharing all of this to make you feel bad about what you’ve been avoiding. It’s here so that you know the avoidance is TOTALLY normal for most of us, but it needs to be addressed. 

Or, you can just go on accepting the low donor return rate year after year. It’s your call.

🤫 Here’s a secret: it is actually WAY harder to get new donors than to get return donors (when you actually cultivate them). 

If you want reliable revenue and a sustainable fundraising model, it requires you to step out of that hustle comfort zone and sync into deep authentic and vulnerable relationship building with power partners. I know this can feel scary at first, but this IS the path to success. 

To learn more about this and get other hot tips, join me for my FREE Webinar – How to Raise More from the Right Funders WITHOUT Hounding Them? I have tons of great advice and my Power Partners Formula™️ is included. Sign up here for a 60 minute lesson on how you can improve your fundraising efforts by 25% with less work.

For more of my favorite fundraising tips and tricks, check out my Resource page! Here, you can find relevant articles, webinars, quizzes, etc. about fundraising in the nonprofit sector. In addition, you can subscribe to What the Fundraising for ongoing conversations about how you can fundamentally change the way you lead and fundraise. And to learn how to raise more from the right funders using the Power Partners Formula, you are always welcome to join one of my free Masterclasses at malloryerickson.com/free.

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Mastering Donor Retention

Donor retention is one of the most important aspects of fundraising for nonprofit organizations. Since nonprofits constantly seek to expand

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