For most of us, we learned at an early age that when someone gives you something you say “Thank You.”
Unfortunately, it quickly becomes more of a communication mechanism to appear obedient than an expression of heartfelt gratitude. The way a child or teenager says “Thanks” to the fulfilled request of $20 on their way to the mall typically does not indicate to the parent providing the funding that the teen is genuinely thankful for the hard work and generosity that went in to providing said cash. Instead, the parent probably feels used.
This obvious analogy to the donor/nonprofit relationship is intended to sting, at least a little bit. Hopefully though the sting this post might produce will lead to a more intentional approach to engaging new donors, no matter how well you might be doing that now.
There is a wide spectrum to the right answers of how best to acknowledge and cultivate new and existing donor relationships, but if you communicate in any of these four ways, you can be sure you are hurting your organization’s ability to keep your donors engaged and giving.
While these will focus on first-time givers (who suffer from abysmal retention rates), they are just as applicable to all your donor relationships. Unfortunately, albeit predictably, they will cause the most harm with your newest.
1. Acknowledge the gift like a transaction, not a…well, gift
You (rightfully) see your mission as more vital to the good of the world than the existence of the latest tech toy or your last impulse buy on Amazon. But many nonprofits acknowledge a first-time donor’s gift (especially online) as though their donation to support your world-changing mission was the equivalent of buying a screwdriver.
Don’t waste this opportunity to virtually hug your new donor with some thoughtful, inspiring communication, some photos of your latest awesome whatever, and maybe even a video with a heartfelt thank you from the chief of your organization.
By giving the gift, they thought you were pretty neat, but this first touch-point needs to help them realize they just joined up with an incredible team who are going to work hard on this new relationship – for the long run.
2. Hey, we’ll be in touch….when you give again
So maybe your first touch-point with your new donor is great, maybe it’s lacking. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, you can still help sabotage this fragile relationship by indicating to the donor that you’re not really interested in much communication…well, until they give again.
Sure, you may have encouraged them to sign up for your monthly newsletter, but giving my wife a card with only the words that Hallmark provides doesn’t really help strengthen the relationship – it needs to be personal.
Make sure you have a process in place that allows for multiple new donor touch points from a variety of people in a variety of ways. This can sound complex, but make some investments and get the right tools in place for you and your team so can ensure that new donors feel the love in a personalized and meaningful way with multiple follow-ups to their first gift.
3. Only talk about you, don’t learn about them
This one is too easy to create an analogy for, so I’ll resist. However, many nonprofits are so well-versed and passionate about why the are awesome, they don’t really take the time to understand who their donors are, what their needs are and even why they gave in the first place. This “it’s all about us” mindset can come across to donors in a variety of ways:
- Your communications to your donors only involve “asks”
- All your communication reads like a Wikipedia-entry about your organization’s strengths and kinda pretends donors don’t exist by never referring to them
- You ignore or don’t know their communication preferences
- You don’t track or can’t track the attributes and personal information about your donors that would allow for more personalized and timely communication.
4. Don’t do what you say you’re going to do
Everyone is busy and everyone wants to keep their word. These two realities can frequently collide in the donor relationship.
- The last time you sent your donor an email you told them you would snail mail them some key info – you didn’t.
- You mentioned in passing when you saw the donor at the event that you would definitely call them when you got in the office the next day – you forgot.
- You told your board that you would follow-up first time gifts with hand-written thank yous – it took too long to find who those people even were, so you quit trying.
The reasons are valid, but the trust damaged can be irreparable. If it’s an issue of priority, understand that your first-time donors are your sustaining donors and planned givers in the future. More likely though, you are just incredibly busy and are struggling with a donor management solution that creates huge cracks through which donor relationships can fall.
While many of the reasons that only 19% of first-time donors give a second gift are well beyond your control, for the sake of your mission, own the reasons you can control. Start by taking some concrete steps to ensure that your priorities, processes and programs aren’t sabotaging your ability to create lasting (and dare I say, lucrative) donor relationships.