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5 ways to keep your first-time donors from 2020

Understanding these unique contributors can be key to converting them to recurring donors

by Jodi Snell, vice president of Hedges

Global philanthropy skyrocketed in 2020, with nonprofits reporting record-setting contributions from individual donors compelled to support those hit hardest by the pandemic. Many organizations launched crisis fundraising campaigns as the need and demand for services surged beyond available resources. As a result, many organizations were relieved, and a bit surprised, to receive first-time gifts from new donors.

Professional fundraisers are taught that any donor prospect must demonstrate three attributes — an interest in your cause, a link to your organization, and the ability to provide a financial gift. These new donors took the guesswork out of this process for many of you by answering your rallying call. Our clients tell us that in some cases, their first-time donors of 2020 received little cultivation, gave without being specifically asked, or were completely unknown to the organization prior to their gifts. These are unique donors. They see your work as aligned with their personal values and see your organization as effective in delivering solutions during a crisis.

Like many other organizations, your team is likely figuring out return-to-office plans, running various financial scenarios in a still uncertain environment, and trying to support staff members who are tired, stressed, and burned out. Those are big responsibilities that need your focus, but don’t make the mistake of doing so at the expense of retaining your first-time donors from 2020.

Retaining these first-time donors can create a long-term benefit that increases your fundraising return on investment. According to Classy, recurring donors are 440% more valuable than one-time donors and have an average lifetime financial return of $795.62, compared to $147.23 from one-time donors. The opportunity to turn these unique new donors into recurring donors is here and the best way to retain these donors is to make their first giving experience with you a good one. We recommend these five strategies that can turn a one-time gift into a longtime relationship:

  1. Make sure donor communications are timely, transparent, and two-sided.
    These donors have responded to your call for help. It is important that you provide timely communication so they can quickly see the direct impact of their giving and how their support is helping people and communities survive the crisis. Don’t let your communications stop with one point of contact. According to a Donor Loyalty Study conducted by Abila, “For the most part, donors like communication from the organizations they support on a monthly or quarterly basis (52%), although Millennials are more comfortable with (and more accustomed to) more frequent communication.” Lastly, don’t forget to allow your donor to communicate with you. Ask them for time together and learn about them personally, what inspired them to give, and answer questions they might have as they work to learn more about the importance of your mission.
  2. Provide additional ways for donors to engage and connect.
    The Donor Loyalty Study by Abila also reported a close correlation between increased engagement and increased financial giving. Be creative in finding ways for donors to get to know your organization better and allow them the opportunity support you in more ways than financial giving. Consider group volunteer opportunities, interactive online or in-person events that expose donors to a behind-the-scenes look at your work, or invitations to share their expertise in ways that further support your organization. Regardless of the opportunities you create, make sure they provide the donor an opportunity to experience your work in a more personal way allowing them to best understand your unique approach to solving complex problems.
  3. Sharpen your social media focus.
    Right now, many people are relying on social media for connection and who couldn’t use some positive posts? Social media is a great spot for donor recognition (with their permission, of course). Invite donors to submit a quote or video sharing why they support your organization and then feature them on your platforms. In addition, you can use social media to further engage with your supporters. Make sure to respond to your followers when they comment on your posts, reinforcing their engagement. Also consider developing a social media ambassador volunteer group to help expand your organization’s reach. Social media ambassador groups provide a virtual volunteer experience and, when provided with the right tools, can do wonders for your digital range of influence.
  4. Acknowledge your donors and celebrate them.
    Old school stewardship is not completely lost in this virtual world. Handwritten thank you notes and thank you calls still provide a personal touch that is often overlooked. These notes and calls are a great way to let donors know you are thinking about them and that you took the time to personally reach out. When it is safe to do so, in-person donor appreciation events and meetings should resume, but until then, get creative with virtual donor appreciation events (lower cost because people bring their own food!) and virtual meetings to stay connected to these new donors.
  5. Don’t over solicit, but don’t forget to solicit a second gift.
    You called, they answered. Once you have further connected your first-time donors to the organization, go ahead and solicit them for a more specific second gift including options like recurring monthly giving, general operating support, or a special initiative that aligns with their interests. If done correctly, good stewardship of a donor becomes cultivation for the next gift.

It is time to nurture these donor relationships. According to Jay Love, co-founder and chief relationship officer at Bloomerang, “the cost to continually acquire new donors can easily run 50% to 100% more than the dollars collected from them. In fact, it can be several years before any charity breaks even on dollars raised compared dollars spent.” and “most major gifts are made after five years of giving.”

While 2020 was anything but ideal, it did create opportunities to build new relationships that can impact donors and organizations for a lifetime.

Talking about donor stewardship is easy. Creating and implementing an effective plan that retains your donors plan can be challenging when you already have a full plate. Hedges is here to help.

Jodi Snell is the Vice President of Hedges. Whether it is training nonprofit leaders in successful fundraising practices or developing and implementing fundraising plans, Jodi promotes impact-driven approaches to philanthropy and the value of longtime relationships.

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