Retaining Your First Time Donors

We all know that new donors are the most expensive to acquire. We also know that getting that first time donor to give again is difficult! With one-time donors hovering around 60%, nonprofits are leaving a lot of time and money on the table. Adrian Sargeant says “a 10% increase in donor retention can increase the lifetime value of your donor database by 200%.”

So how can you move that first time donor to a second time donor? And then move that second time donor to a loyal donor?

Here are some of the basic and not-so-basic strategies:

  1. Thank your donors promptly. How quickly does your donor get a thank you letter from your organization? If it’s more than two weeks, you need new procedures. And don’t forget the handwritten note at the bottom of that letter.
  2. Personalize your touches. You can segment your donor list based on being a first time donor. How can you make that first time donor feel special? Fundraiser Penelope Burk showed that a thank you call to a newly acquired donor yields 40% more revenue in year 2. Not only is a phone call a great way to thank the donor, you can also use the call to find out more about them – what led them to make the gift? how would they like to be communicated with? It may even help you to identify major donor prospects.
  3. Stewardship plans are a mustThe next time a donor hears from you shouldn’t be for an ask 12 months later. You must build a relationship with them. Share stories about the impact of their gifts. Invite them for a site visit. Here’s one of my favorite tips: Don’t send a holiday card (your donors’ mailboxes will be full with these). Instead, send a Thanksgiving day card. We are nothing without our donors. Tell them on this important holiday that you are thankful for them!
  4. Once is never enough. You can never thank your donors enough. Can you utilize your board members and volunteers to conduct a Thank-A-Thon? It’s a wonderful way to engage your board members in the stewardship process.

It’s critical to remember that you are helping donors fulfill their passions. Giving is a joyful act. So be sure you acknowledge their generosity in a way that reflects that joyfulness.


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Sarah Cortell Vandersypen

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