Why So Many New-donor Acquisition Efforts Stink
The failure to immediately obtain second gifts from new donors is a grave error. In fact, many new-donor acquisition efforts stink because of this failure.
As a fundraiser, one of your primary obligations is to acquire new donors so your organization’s revenue will increase. This means, of course, that you need to acquire more new donors each year than you lose to offset natural attrition.
Sadly, you might find yourself running hard on the acquisition treadmill but not moving forward at all. You’re investing significant amounts of money in acquisition campaigns, but you still remain stuck.
The good news is that you’re not alone. Most fundraisers find it incredibly difficult to take a new-donor acquisition program to the next level.
The bad news is that you shouldn’t be in this position. But don’t worry, because you can take steps right now to jump off the acquisition treadmill and make real progress toward higher revenue. You can start on this journey by examining what happens with new donors after they give their first gifts.
The vital importance of second gifts
I had a conversation recently with a fundraising manager who was complaining about acquisition and the difficulty of growing her donor file. She lamented about not getting new donors to give again. She felt tremendous pressure from her supervisor to “get acquisition fixed now.”
We spoke at length about how her new donors had been treated, what kind of mail they received and how frequently they were asked for gifts. To my dismay, I learned that this particular organization only acknowledged gifts of $25 or more. Since its average first-time gift hovered between $21 and $23, it’s likely that half, if not more, of all new donors never receive a thank-you gift receipt. No donor is going to give again if he hasn’t been properly thanked for his last gift.
Getting an immediate second gift from a new donor is the most important factor in the success of your acquisition program. If you don’t believe me, closely examine the chart on Page 22 (below). Donors who give multiple gifts in their acquisition year are three times more likely to give the following year than those new donors who had only given once.
If you want your new-donor acquisition efforts to pay higher dividends, dramatically increase your organization’s revenue and spur significant donor-file growth, then pay very close attention to what you do with new donors.
Five easy steps to getting second gifts
1. Within 72 hours of receiving the gift, send a gift-acknowledgement package via First-Class mail to all new donors. Use this package to strongly affirm and thank your new donors. Reinforce your acquisition message, and explain why your new donors’ continued support is vital to your organizational mission.
Include a second-gift reply option. Remember that donors who gave most recently — including your new donors — are most likely to immediately give again.
To increase your chances of getting a second gift, include a promise to double your donor’s gift through a matching-gift fund. Like all of us, donors appreciate a good deal. If you don’t have a matching-gift fund set up by your major donors or corporate partner, get one started today.
Give your new donors control over their relationship with you. Include a communication-preference options card in your acknowledgement package with multiple choices so contributors can indicate what they want to receive from you. Provide an opt-in opportunity for e-mail communications, and capture new donors’ e-mail addresses.
2. About a week later, send your donors a special-appeal package that, once again, recognizes their first gift, reinforces your original acquisition message and explains a new, urgent financial need. This package is crucial to your eventual success in getting that second gift.
The temptation with this special appeal is to shift your message to one that is more focused on your organization. Don’t succumb to this temptation. Keep your message keenly focused on the urgent fundraising needs that must be met. This is an appeal package, not an organization-information piece.
3. You should call all donors who gave a first gift of $50 or more (or some appropriate minimum threshold) about two weeks after mailing the special appeal in Step 2. Again, your purpose here is to acknowledge the donor’s new relationship with you, affirm his decision to give and request an additional gift.
Steps 1 through 3 should be completed within 30 days of the donor’s first gift. Time is of the essence. The more time that elapses from the first gift, the lower the chances are of receiving a second. Don’t linger, although pressure to do so will be significant. You might hear arguments such as “that donor just gave,” or “we shouldn’t bother them so quickly.”
But statistics of donor behavior show that you need to move very quickly to get a second gift — or your chances are pretty slim. In fact, if you haven’t received a second gift from a new donor within two to four months of her first gift, your chances of ever receiving one drop dramatically.
4. Invite new donors who meet the minimum threshold for the telephone appeal to participate in a live conference call with a senior leader of your organization. A quick postcard with all the necessary dial-in details is a sufficient invitation.
The conference call should be designed to affirm the new donor and explain more broadly why your organization exists and what exactly you’re trying to accomplish. It’s all about providing donors a glimpse of the vital role they play.
Even though very few of your donors will actually participate in the conference call, the mere fact that you invited them will signal your desire for a true, long-lasting partnership.
5. Move donors into a regular communication cycle. How long you continue to select new donors to receive your appeals depends on whether they give again and the size of their first gift. Except for high-dollar donors, you will probably discontinue selecting them for additional contacts unless they have given again within five or six months of their first gift.
Getting second gifts from new donors really matters, so get started right now. Put this five-point strategy in place, and you’ll start getting more second gifts. More of your new donors will continue to support you into the following year, your revenues will increase, and you will begin celebrating acquisition success.
Timothy Burgess is cofounder of the Domain Group, an international direct marketing firm serving nonprofit organizations in North America and Europe. A 27-year fundraising veteran, Burgess serves on the advisory council and ethics committee of the Direct Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Federation. He can be reached at 206.834.1480 or via e-mail at email@example.com.