We all know that the ALS Foundation has achieved a remarkable windfall from their now famous “Ice Bucket Challenge.” Since a majority of the gifts were made online from first-time donors, they have their work cut out for them with regards to retention. Unfortunately, own $5 Donor Communications Experiment showed that nonprofits, on average, may not do such a stellar job of stewarding online donors.

Recently, a marketing guru whose blog I follow daily challenged me to help support a project for charity: water. I did just that.

Their email follow-up was absolutely impeccable. Here are five things they did to excite and retain me as a donor:

1. Separate the tax receipt and the thank you note

Soon after making my donation, I received two emails. One was a tax receipt email and the other was a branded thank you email.

Here is the first:

cause water receipt

Here is the second:

cause water email

A key ingredient to donor retention is multiple “touches” in the first 90 days. This organization achieved two touches in the first three minutes! I honestly felt like there was a message for my accountant (via me) and then a special message for me.

2. Make the thank you email personal and special

Notice the personalization of the rapidly sent follow-up thank you. Most likely, I was added to their database immediately and this special email was sent seconds later!

The email was also a celebration because of the tone of the letter and the wonderful picture.

They made sure I know that further information about my particular project will be coming upon completion. I am betting they will find a way for at least 2-3 more superb touch points during the next 18 months!

3. Introduce a matching gift opportunity

One quickly spots the matching gift options appearing in both emails. The donor has the chance to double their impact via a matching gift.

Maching Gift

The charity also has the chance to involve the employer, but more importantly they will now have another 1-3 touch points helping the matching gift happen and thanking everyone with both a tax receipt and thank you email!

4. Introduce another opportunity to donate in a special manner

Now that the donor has been treated special with personalization and a memorable thank you, what is a better time to introduce a peer-to-peer fundraising opportunity?


Their birthday peer-to-peer campaigns have become famous and quite profitable. From the landing page, it is quite easy to launch the “birthday” campaign.

How many more touch points will this bring?

How involved are you as a donor by now?

By this point in time, they have doubled or tripled the chances of retaining this donor!

5. Make it easy to follow on social media

This is done with the very first touch point on the bottom of the tax receipt. One little click and the charity has a new follower and friend!

Twitter and Facebook

Obviously, the charity will be able to make numerous touch points come to life if they are linked to the donor via social media.

Wrapping it up

It is no surprise that charity: water is quite successful with their fundraising results. Their retention rates are not readily available, but I would not be surprised if they are among the highest in the sector.

The amount of personal touch points utilized and the increasing involvement of the donor leading to higher and higher levels of engagement can and should be lesson to all of us in fundraising.

If anyone from charity: water is reading this, KUDOS to you and your team!