5 Steps to the Second Gift
Getting new donors is more expensive and more difficult than ever. Ten years ago, average new-donor retention rates were 30 percent. Now the average is down to 20 percent to 25 percent. That means 75 percent to 80 percent of your new donors may abandon you after the first gift. Ouch.
Your first critical task: Motivate your new donors to give you second gifts as soon as possible after the first gifts. It’s been proven that if a new donor gives again within three months, long-term donor loyalty can increase fourfold.
Getting that second gift can be elusive, clearly. But it’s worth the pursuit. Even a slight improvement in retention can have extremely positive effects on your program and net income.
You need to take five carefully timed steps to get more new donors to continue their support. But before you get started, get into the New-Donor Zone. Step away from the tactical aspects of your fundraising program for a moment, and put yourself in the shoes of your new donor. She is excited about her recent gift to your organization. She has a strong emotional connection to your cause. And something magical happened when she made her gift to you. She hopes she is making an impact. She is giving through your organization to realize her own aspirations. Your job is to keep these feelings burning strong. Tap in to this new-donor mind-set as you follow these steps:
Step 1: Within 48 hours
Thank your donors promptly and sincerely. Strengthen your new relationships while their gifts and the warm feelings associated with them are still fresh in their minds.
Thank everybody — no matter how small the gift. Use First Class postage for fast delivery. If you promised them a gift (calendar, wristband, tote bag, etc.), send it immediately. Recognize their new-donor status in your acknowledgment, welcome them to your organization, reference their gift amount and get specific about how their donations are having a direct, immediate impact. And be deeply grateful. Avoid a transactional, donation-receipt format that is cold and impersonal.
Also ask for a second gift. An effective acknowledgment program can generate 8 percent to 10 percent or more of your program’s revenue. So ask!
Ask your new donors a few quick questions via a brief checkbox list to understand their interests and personal connection to your cause. Also, give new donors the opportunity to sign up for your e-newsletter and event announcements.
For larger gifts, send handwritten notes from your nonprofit’s leader. And include contact information for a real donor-services person.
Tip: Thank-you calls have been proven to increase retention and average gift, raising retention rates in the second year and keeping them elevated in the third year.
Call donors to personally thank them. Get staff and volunteers to help if you can’t afford an outside service. Start with those donors who give higher-value gifts ($50, $100). Try to call as many donors as you can, even at lower-dollar gift levels. A phone conversation is a great opportunity to ask questions, introduce a monthly giving offer and propose a second gift.
An alternative is a prerecorded, automated call from your organization’s leader, thanking and welcoming new donors.
Step 2: Within two weeks
Send a new-donor welcome kit. A welcome kit recognizes your donor’s status as a new and much appreciated friend. Send it within two weeks of the gift. Include a brochure about your programs. Surprise and delight donors with small tokens of appreciation such as membership or supporter cards; decals or magnets; or bookmarks, charms or key chains. Feature a “soft ask” for another gift in the letter, and include a reply card and return envelope.
You can create an online version of welcome kits too, with the letter, brochure, links to more in-depth content on your website, and a video message from your leadership and staff. Get creative — offer posters, infographics and other interesting digital assets that you already have or could repurpose.
Step 3: Within four weeks
Send an early second-gift appeal. Send a special appeal, carefully designed and sequenced to get donors to repeat their original gift amounts four weeks after their initial gifts. Send it two weeks after the new-donor welcome kit but before the first “regular” renewal campaign. Target your best new donors, such as those who gave $50 or more, depending on your budget.
Organizations have seen first-year donor-retention rates increase 3 percent to 4 percent with this strategy. As noted earlier, even slight improvements in retention rates can have a dramatic impact on your program results.
One successful creative approach is a note card featuring a preprinted message and a real handwritten note for a personal touch, with a closed-face outer envelope and First Class postage.
In your message, emphasize how the donor’s support already has had a direct impact. Reference the first gift amount in the handwritten note, and ask the donor to give the same amount again. For example, “Thank you for making a difference. Repeating your gift of $100 would mean so much.”
Also test upgrading the gift ask amount, and demonstrate why donors should give more while reporting back on the impact of that giving.
To simplify the process, you can use your acknowledgment data file for this appeal so you don’t have to pull data from your donor database twice.
Tip: In addition to segmenting new donors by gift value, also identify new donors who have shown a stronger interest in your organization, including:
- Survey responders
- Matching-gift responders
- Facebook likes
- Website visitors
- E-newsletter openers
These donors are more likely to continue their financial support.
Step 4: Two months after the initial gift
Offer your strongest renewal appeals first. You know which of your renewal appeals have the greatest results each year. Plan to send your new donors these offers up front. They are more likely to respond to your best appeals, so send them first. This may be your matching-gift appeal or proven “pillar” campaigns that perform well year after year. Also consider re-mailing the same appeal new donors just responded to.
Step 5: 10 months after the initial gift
Send a “pre-lapse” appeal. New donors who are nearing one year without gifts since their initial gifts are at serious risk of lapsing. And a lapsed donor (no giving activity in 12 months or more) is harder to re-engage than a donor who has given more recently.
Most donors might not realize they’re getting close to the anniversary of their initial gifts. How do you get their attention without turning them off? How can you rekindle their initial feeling and motivation?
This is your last opportunity to bring in that second gift before donors pass the 12- to 14-month mark. Send a touchpoint nine months to 11 months since the first gift that says, “We’ve missed you!” Note that it’s been a year since you’ve received her generous gift, referencing the specific amount. Emphasize the great work you’ve been doing in the meantime and the need for her continued help. Consider including a premium item like a magnet or decal to rekindle the donor’s bond with your cause.
- Encourage new donors to become monthly sustainers. Include a monthly giving option on your direct-mail reply slips. Provide a one-click option for monthly giving on your online donation form. Test an “interrupt” box during single-gift donation processing, which asks donors if they would like to make their donation a monthly gift, with the calculation displayed.
- Append e-mail addresses as soon as possible. Multichannel donors are your most valuable donors. Those who give both online and offline are two to three times as valuable as an offline-only donor. Get their e-mail addresses so you can start communicating with them through multiple channels.
- Also encourage donors to provide their e-mail addresses themselves. Retention rates are typically higher for donors who give you their e-mail addresses compared to when you append the file.
- Add a matching-grant mention or reminder in any of your appeals after you’ve already mailed or deployed matching-grant-focused campaigns. Matching grants do not have to be limited to the central theme of a campaign. They are strong response drivers, so include them in other appeals too.
- Give donors a “last chance” for year-end giving, such as the last day of the year, in your year-end online campaign as well as in your direct mail.
- Increase new-donor interaction with your organization through mini online surveys, and include surveys in direct mail too. Surveys can be very strong fundraising offers because donors like to share their opinions. Other engagement activities include calendar cover contests, photo contests and voting on membership card images. Encourage donors to submit their special-event photographs for publishing on your website or social-media outlets.
- Use the self-identified information donors share with you to provide customized information relevant to them via e-mail or inserts in direct mail.
New donors need extra attention to stay interested and motivated to continue their financial support of your work! But they are worth the effort and investment.
Bryan Terpstra is senior vice president of client services at LW Robbins. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org