Churn Over✌️

How to keep more donors for longer

What is Donor Churn & Why Care?

All charities, NGOs, political parties, and membership organizations are focused on growth: signing up new regular donors, supporters, and new paid members.

All very good, but eventually, ‘Churn’ really eats away at your revenue stream

Getting new donors is always more expensive than keeping existing ones.

On average, it can take 18-24 months to recoup the money spent to attract first-time donors. Think of all the human and financial effort, all those conversations, media buys, campaigns and events involved in signing a new donor up. Keeping them is vital!

Churn is one factor in overall donor retention. Typically most campaigning organizations wish to move from peaks and troughs of income (left) to a steady, predictable income stream that grows over time (right).

Slow Churn

Imagine riding a bicycle with very slowly deflating tires - for the first few weeks, you don't notice much, but it gets worse after a couple of months. Then, finally, if you do nothing at all, you'll slowly grind to halt.

Churn can be a real drag over time.

What's is a Churn Rate?

The churn rate - also known as the rate of attrition - is the rate at which regular donors stop giving (or members leave). It is most commonly expressed as the percentage of subscribers who discontinue their subscriptions within a given period of time.

How to calculate monthly Churn Rate

At it’s most simple:

(Donors at start of the month - Donors at the end of the month) / Donors at the start of the month = Monthly Churn Rate

Typically it is expressed as a percentage, for example:
(500-435) / 500 = 13%

Each month 13% of donors are being lost to ‘Churn’.

Churn silently kills your income

Like a leaking bucket, if left unchecked, Churn can silently kill your income stream over time. With a high churn rate, if you don't keep refilling the bucket with new donors at a higher pace than you lose them, your monthly revenue will eventually wind up at zero.

Over time it compounds and gets worse

Imagine you had a monthly churn rate of 13%. It doesn't sound too bad, right?

But let’s look at the effect of this on 1000 donors giving $12 per month:

Month 1 = 1000 donors

Month 2 = 870 donors

Month 3 = 757 donors

Month 4 = 658 donors

Month 5 = 572 donors

Month 6 = 498 donors

Month 7 = 433 donors

Month 8 = 377 donors

Month 9 = 328 donors

Month 10 = 286 donors

Month 11 = 248 donors

Month 12 = 216 donors

Our revenue has dropped from $12,000 per month to a measly $2,592 per month over just 12 months. Pretty bad.

This is because, over time, churn compounds to make an outsize impact on your potential future revenue.

Small improvements = big impact

Because of the compounding effect of churn rates, even a seemly small improvement can have a tremendous impact on your bottom line.

For example, if we went from a churn rate of 13% (avg. credit card churn rate) down to 2.9% (avg. Direct Debit or ACH rate).

Let’s look at the effect of this on the same 1000 donors giving $12 per month:

Month 1 = 1000 donors

Month 2 = 971 donors

Month 2 = 969 donors

Month 3 = 941 donors

Month 4 = 913 donors

Month 5 = 886 donors

Month 6 = 861 donors

Month 7 = 836 donors

Month 8 = 811 donors

Month 9 = 788 donors

Month 10 = 765 donors

Month 11 = 743 donors

Month 12 = 722 donors

Our revenue has dropped from $12,000 per month down to $8,664 per month over 12 months.

After one year at a 2.9% churn rate vs. a 13% churn rate that’s a whopping 234% increase in monthly revenue.

Imagine the compound effects over five years or longer!

Types of Churn & Best Practise

While there is no single fix to the problem of churn but there are (proven) ways to address different types.

Voluntary Churn

Voluntary Churn is the act of donors actively initiating the end to their subscription. Maybe they don't understand your impact or want to support another cause. There are many ways you can address this; whilst many of these are pretty basic, they can significantly impact retention over time.

Ways to reduce voluntary churn

Storytelling and Communication

Let donors know about the outcomes their contribution is directly having. You wouldn't pay for something without knowing what you were getting, so why continue a monthly gift if you don't understand the impact of your giving?

Thank people!

It sounds self-evident, but people expect a thank you immediately (and often) when they give. So reach out to your donors at other critical times of the year, such as the holidays, birthdays, and key dates.

Community and Activities

Donors want to feel part of something bigger. Providing opportunities to be involved and meet your community, both face-to-face and online, is vital to building long-term support.


Speak to donors in a way that will resonate with them, segment information and send them the impact content they care about most.

This list is non-exhaustive; there are many more methods.

Involuntary Churn

Involuntary Churn happens when a donor stops giving without intending actually to stop giving. For example, not updating billing information (expired cards) and soft declines when a credit card is maxed out. Or hard declines when a card is lost or stolen, or if the donor switches bank account.

Nothing is worse than losing good donors to failed payments!

Involuntary Churn can account for up to 40% of overall Churn, but, with good systems, it can arguably be more straightforward to fix (and measure) than voluntary Churn. This is where 'dunning' practices come in.

Dunning is what happens after a payment fails. What you do, exactly when and how, makes a huge difference.

Ways to reduce involuntary churn

First, offer donors Direct Debit or Bank Debit (such as ACH debit in the US)

Getting your regular donors on direct debit or bank debit is the easiest and quickest win for donor retention. It also costs typically less per transaction than credit or debit card payments.

  • 97.5% of payments process successfully at the first time of asking with Bank Debit, which means you will automatically have a lower churn rate - even before taking any action!
SmartRaise offers the local bank debit payment option - such as ACH debit in the US - in over 30 countries, including the UK, Eurozone, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
  • Having said this, offering card and mobile payments is still essential because not everyone will be able (or willing) to give via bank payment.

Send Fewer, Better automated emails
Doing nothing when payments fail is not an option, but waiting and automating, the right moment to intervene: that's best practice.

  • Allow intelligent retry and smart retry schedules to be complete first before contacting the donor. Using machine learning, these retry the donor's card or bank account at an optimized time behind the scenes at selected intervals, without bothering the donor.
  • Decouple email triggers from payment attempts: you don't want to send the donor an automatic email every time a payment fails (SmartRaise, has a fine-tuned process, that reacts appropriately to payment attempts behind the scenes)

Avoid 'Pre-Dunning' (and don't start)!

In the past, organisations sent warning emails to customers 30, 10, and 3 days before their card expired. These emails were called “pre-dunning.” Today this is no longer needed.

  • Stripe and other modern payments platforms will automatically update cards that have an upcoming expiration date. They communicate directly with the card-issuing bank, and it works very well.
  • Over 70% of expiration dates get updated behind the scenes - so spare your donors unnecessary alarm with ‘Urgent: update your card!’ emails.

Ensure a frictionless update experience

When you need to ask for new payment details (credit card numbers or bank account details), ensure the experience is as seamless as possible.

  • Use dedicated card and bank account update pages: make sure that this is the only focus when the donor clicks through to update their details. And the page reflects your brand. Trust is key.
  • Avoid asking for old data: pre-populate as much as possible on the forms, only leave what's necessary (card or account details)
  • Ensure the page is mobile-friendly: Most of your donors will update their cards using a mobile device (make sure you accept Apple Pay and Google Pay)
  • Don't use log-in: the less friction you add into the process, the more likely your donor is to input the information. If you ask for a password they won’t bother.
  • Use SSL encryption: trust and security are essential.

Example from SmartRaise one-click recovery link for Credit Card. Custom branding throughout and only minimal essential data is asked (Google Pay and Apple pay automatically appear if enabled on the device).

Personalize messages

Trust is vital. Because of phishing scams, more and more donors are wary of clicking on emails to update their credit card or bank account details. By branding your receipts and follow-ups, donors can be assured that they are coming from a trusted source. Make sure they match your style and guidelines.

Example from SmartRaise lets you edit and brand all aspects of transactional emails, automations and donation receipts.
  • Limit Images and Links: the focus should be on taking the one call to action, not directing the donor elsewhere. Images can be a distraction and lower deliverability.
  • Keep it short and personal: Don't put an essay in front of the CTA. Make sure the "from name" is recognizable and from a human (and from your organization)
  • Be respectful but add urgency: as you follow up, make sure the message's urgency increases a little over time.
  • Make sure you monitor replies: obvious, but make sure there is a way for the donor to communicate with your team if needed.

Make sure emails actually get delivered

As most online campaigners know, email deliverability is a massive topic in itself. It boils down to knowing, for sure, people see your emails, and they are not getting flagged up as spam (or not delivered at all).

With transactional emails for failed payments this, is even more important!

Here are a few tips:

  1. Use an Email Service Provider (ESP) that only sends transactional email. Mixing with in your marketing emails on the same platform can ruin performance.
  2. Use your own SPF/DKIM records to improve deliverability.
  3. Make sure you have a team monitoring for deliverability issues over time (at SmartRaise we do this for all our clients).
  4. Check the content for standard spam filter terms (using tools like Litmus)

Human interventions

No matter how much automation you do, humans will occasionally need to be involved with a more personal touch.

Is a high-value donor at risk of churning but has not to responded to direct debit update requests? Consider stepping in by calling them and sending a personal email.

  • Make sure you have high-value opportunity alerts: you may want to react differently to a larger payment vs a smaller amount failing
  • Ensure your team is always ready to listen and answer questions or concerns (both technical and related to the cause)

Follow up failed payments

People have lots to do: they go on holiday, wait on a reissued card, get distracted when catching a bus…and all they often need is a nudge.

  • Don't give up too soon: make sure you send enough emails when a donors payment fails. People have a surprisingly high tolerance for follow-ups and will be happy to be reminded (especially if they have positive associations with your cause)
  • Automate the process: make sure you avoid spamming donors by using automation respectful of when the donor is contacted. Aim to send as few messages as necessary to achieve your goal.


Your Churn rate may not seem like a big concern at first, but over time, it will silently eat away at your income.

While you can't eliminate donor churn, there are proven ways to drastically reduce it using a combination of best-practise, smart automation and human intervention.

If you are looking for a solution that covers all these bases - we are here to help. Your organization is unique, so creating workflows to ensure donors keep giving should match how you work.

SmartRaise offers a proven toolkit to help regain control over donor churn. Using nudge automations and best-in-class user experience to recover failed payments and keep donors giving for longer.

To find out more, book a demo and see how SmartRaise can help you grow sustainable donation income.