Stopping Donor Drop-offs

  • Sash Neser
  • 12 April 2020
  • 5 minute read


Regular ongoing contributions from donors are a fundamental requirement for the survival of many charities, with the main challenge being, keeping your donors on board for the long haul.

Information and data on donor drop-off rates is difficult to come by as it is typically a closely guarded secret, however this was the focus of a large-scale piece of research conducted in England titled ‘Face-to-face donor cancellation rates (attrition): establishing a benchmark’.

The scale of this research was impressive. It was conducted in collaboration with the regulating body in England. Below is a summery of the anonymous data taken from 30 charities:

  • They collected data from 82 campaigns over a 3-year period
  • There were 377,000 donors who pledged more than £30M in the first year alone
  • Donors were solicited equally on the street and door-to-door
  • All the donors pledged ongoing monthly contributions.

The research aim was to measure how many of these donors dropped-off (stopped donating), after how long and why. The research was conducted a while back in 2009 but the findings are still relevant today.


What to expect in a typical life cycle during the first 3 years of donations…..


End of first month: 10% of donors will drop-off.

End of year 1: Donors will drop off steadily each month until you have around 50% remaining.

End of year 3: The rate of drop-off’s slow but you can expect 70% of donors will have stopped their monthly contributions.


The research dives into plenty of detail and breaks down the data into many factors such as donation sizes, the nature of the cause / charity, the region and brand recognition. Regardless of these factors though, the drop-off rates were fairly uniform plus or minus a few percentage points. The researchers identified that donors solicited door-to-door had a marginally lower drop-off rate than those solicited on the street.

So, what are the real gems your organisation can take from this research? 


It turns out it’s not just the numbers but the actions charities can take to improve these drop-off rates. The researchers listed the following key points to prevent donor drop-offs:

  • The most important factor identified was the quality of the donors initially recruited, which had a big effect on their ongoing behaviour. This was influenced by the training given to the fundraisers and close management of the campaign as it progressed.
  • Improving processes to reduce the time between sign-up and the first donation
  • Ensuring donors are thanked quickly and authentically.
  • Improving the quality of communications to donors during sign-up and going forward. This includes giving donors a choice of how and when they are communicated with.
  • Using welcome calls, text messages and emails to reinforce the positive action donors have taken in signing up.


In contrast, they found that the following factors worsened drop-off rates:


  • The most reported factor impacting drop-off rates was the age of the donor. If donors are under the age of 24 they are much more likely to drop-off early.
  • Poor administration of donations where payments were missed or not dealt with properly.
  • Irregular or inefficient communications where donors were either not communicated with at all following sign-up or were bombarded with direct mail.
  • Calling or mailing too often or too soon after sign up.


If your primary fundraising method is recruitment of regular donors, we trust the above data and key points will provide you with some useful guidance.


Happy fundraising!


Reference: ‘Face-to-face donor cancellation rates (attrition): establishing a benchmark’, Fleming & Tappin (2009), Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary’ Sector Marketing, Vol. 14, pp.341-352.


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