How Meals on Wheels America Boosted Donor Retention by 34%

Case Study Snapshot:


An unexpected windfall of individual gifts made it clear: Meals on Wheels America lacked the structure to track, cultivate, and retain donors. 

Working with WHC

WHC worked with the Meals on Wheels America team to build a robust fundraising culture and strategy – and saw overall donor retention grow by 34%.


When the COVID-19 pandemic brought another wave of generosity their way, Meals on Wheels America was in a better position to give their donors the experience they deserved.


“We didn’t have the foundation in place to cultivate our individual donors.”

Kristine Templin, Meals on Wheels America’s Chief Development Officer, needed to increase the organization’s unrestricted revenue. But she had inherited an annual giving program that, in her words, was “organic and passive.” 

That meant no donor acquisition, little donor cultivation, and a database geared more to association management than donor management. “We didn’t have the tools to fully assess the health of our donor file or to know  what opportunities there were within it. But we had a lot of pressure to grow revenue.”

Meals on Wheels America is a national association representing more than 5,000 senior nutrition programs across the country. It supports local member programs through advocacy, research, training, and funding opportunities. “We are both an association and a national charity,” said Kristine. 

In 2017, the organization faced a surprising challenge: an unexpected windfall of new individual gifts. It sounds like every nonprofit’s dream, but for Caitlin Wiernicki, Director of Development Operations, it highlighted their fundraising challenges. “It was clear we didn’t have the right strategies in place to deal with increased gift volume or to cultivate and retain these new  donors.”

“We needed somebody to work with us to build a best-in-class annual giving program.”

Kristine and Caitlin started talking about hiring a consultant but weren’t sure where to begin. “You can only go to so many webinars and do so many conferences. We needed somebody to come in, roll up their sleeves, and work with us to build a best-in-class annual giving program,” said Caitlin. 

They needed a fundraising consultant who could:

  • Assess and segment a disorganized donor file.
  • Build an annual communications plan that worked within their system and budget constraints.
  • Create a fundraising culture built on best practices across the leadership, communications, and development teams. 

“I knew she had the right experience….”

Kristine had worked with Barbara at another large, complex nonprofit and had been impressed. “I knew she had the right experience, the right outlook, the right kind of personality. She would take the time to really understand us.”

Bringing on the team at Windmill Hill Consulting proved to be a wise investment. 

Here’s some of what WHC did for Meals on Wheels America: 

  1. Analyzed their donor file, pinpointing retention rates, segmenting donors, and identifying potential major donors to cultivate. 
  2. Provided tactical communications recommendations: how to tailor messaging to different donor segments, which channels to use, how often to communicate, etc.
  3. Developed an annual communications calendar and advised on best practices.
  4. Created key communications pieces, including year-end appeals for different donor segments, a welcome series, and a newsletter, getting their new strategy off the ground.

“We wouldn’t have opened that door without Barbara.”

Caitlin started to notice an increase in donor engagement. “In the past, we hadn’t given our donors many opportunities to engage with us,” she explained. “But after we sent our year-end print appeal, we heard from a new monthly donor. He wanted to learn more about a program we’d highlighted in the appeal. He ended up committing $10,000 to it, based on that appeal and conversation!” 

“And we’ve been able to continue to cultivate that relationship,” Caitlin continued. “We wouldn’t have opened that door without Barbara and her support in following up with him.”

Kristine added, “She also helped us put some stewardship strategies in place involving our CEO, such as identifying particular donors and putting together a brief so the CEO could call them to say thank you. We’ve had some really good wins there. It’s something we knew we should be doing, but we needed help implementing.”

These anecdotal wins were the icing on the cake for Meals on Wheels America: between 2019 and 2020, the organization saw new donor retention double and their overall donor retention grow by 34%.

“I’ve gone from anxious to optimistic.”

During the height of the pandemic, Meals on Wheels America was on the receiving end of a second unprecedented wave of generosity. This time they were ready.

With its donor file in order and a communications strategy in place, the organization knew how to care for its donors. “We had so much generosity coming our way during COVID. It was important for us to treat those donors well,” Kristine said. “We were able to give them a far better experience than before.” 

When asked how they feel about fundraising now, Caitlin responded, “There’s still a lot of work for us to do, but I see so many opportunities now.”

Kristine agreed. “I’ve gone from feeling anxious to being optimistic about the experience we’re now creating for our donors. Seeing the renewals, the retention, the upgrades, the new sustaining donors has been really  rewarding. That’s where the real payoff is coming from for us.”

She offered a final word of advice to others feeling overwhelmed by fundraising challenges. Windmill Hill Consulting is a worthwhile investment  if you’re looking to grow sustainable, unrestricted, flexible funding for your organization.”

If you’re ready to go from anxious to optimistic about fundraising for your organization, book a call today!

Site Design & Development North Star Sites