First Time Donor Retention roundCorner

by Wendy Davis

I’ve donated to nonprofit organizations for many years. These organizations have been ones I know well—my church, my alma maters, and my local public television station (because I have a love for Antiques Roadshow and Downton Abbey).

As a long-term supporter, I know what kinds of stewardship efforts to expect from these familiar organizations. What would I learn about donor retention by becoming a first-time donor again?

Becoming a First-Time Donor Again

In 2017, as I observed events unfolding around me (both locally and nationally), I decided to donate to organizations that defend urgent causes. My donations were modest, but making a contribution to their missions was important to me.

The experiences that I had post-donation were varied, and each left an impression on me. Of course, there is no magic formula for organizations to convert a first-time donor to a repeat donor. But the effort that goes into follow-up makes an impact.

To illustrate, these are my experiences with 3 different organizations that reached out to me as a new donor.

Lesson in Personal Letters

First, I contributed to a local women’s group that provides comfort kits for victims of assault. I knew a woman who received such a kit, and I wanted to thank this organization for their kindness and their efforts.

I was so touched when I received a personal letter from the director inviting me to be her guest at their annual gala. She referenced the content of the letter I sent with my donation, and expressed that she wanted the opportunity to meet me in person. I wasn’t able to attend the event, but I intend to make my attendance a priority for this year.

Just last week, I was reminded of the organization again while going through my desk’s pile of “important papers to not throw away.” The personal letter meant a lot, and the acknowledgement vehicle also matched the organization.

Writing personal letters to new donors, while near-impossible for large nonprofits, makes sense for smaller ones who can manage to do so.

Thanks via Phone Call

The next nonprofit was a national social justice organization that I became acquainted with several years ago. When my school district was managing a hate incident at the local high school, I attended a workshop organized by this organization that had a profound impact on me.

However, until 2017, I never made a donation to this organization. This changed when I witnessed the increasing visibility and openness of hate groups and individuals who promote hate.

What happened post-donation surprised me. I received a personal phone call thanking me for my contribution. I am certain that I was one of thousands of new donors to this organization last year, and the personal phone call, while it lasted only a few seconds, stuck with me.

Key Reminders Bring Key Donations

In January, I became one of thousands of new donors to an organization that actively advocates for immigrant rights. I immediately began receiving email and print communications from this organization. The messaging was closely aligned with current events and salient issues. The well-planned, frequent communications throughout the year kept this organization and its mission constantly on my radar.

At a conference in November 2017, I was fortunate to meet a staff member from this organization. I shared that I had been a first-time donor earlier in the year. The staff member told me how the recent influx of donations has allowed their organization to grow. He mentioned that new sustainers were a great asset, since recurring gifts quite literally help “sustain” the organization.

That conversation resonated with me more than any of the marketing messages I had read in emails or letters from the organization. Based on that conversation, I decided I would become a sustainer, and I did.

Making it Personal with Donors in 2018

In each of these experiences that I shared, it was the personalized acknowledgement that mattered most to me. Whether it was a personal letter, phone call or a face to face conversation, these interactions made the messages stick with me. Can you achieve that via an email or a print mail campaign? I think you can.

For large organizations, it is impossible to make phone calls and write notes to all your first-time donors. But can you tell your story? Not the story of what you are trying to do, but the story of your organization?

When I learned how my meager donations, when combined with hundreds and thousands of others, are helping the organization grow, that resonated with me. I know your cause. That is what prompted me to give. Now I want to know about your organization. Where is its heart? What matters most to you as an organization?

Last year, charitable giving reached new heights, and I am hopeful that this trend will continue in 2018. There are so many fantastic organizations doing great things in the world. What experience will your organization provide first-time donors?

Wendy Davis roundCornerWendy Davis is roundCorner’s Product Marketing Manager. With over 19 years of experience in higher education technology, Wendy serves in consulting, implementation, and client success.

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