The Catholic Fundraiser

Want to Retain First-Time Donors? Treat Them Like First-Time Church Visitors.

Posted by Steven Shattuck on 5/17/18 11:06 AM
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want-to-retain-first-time-donors-treat-them-like-first-time-church-visitorsThis past weekend, my family had the opportunity to visit two churches that we do not regularly attend. On Saturday, we attended my niece's first communion mass and on Sunday visited a church where an old family friend was guest-preaching.

In both cases, we were warmly greeted at the door and warmly greeted by those sitting around us, some of which were curious about what brought us there that day.

There is a mountain of research advising churches on how to treat first-time guests with the goal of return attendance: be welcoming, be curious but not overwhelming, and make it easy to follow up. There is also a mountain of research advising fundraisers on how to treat first-time donors with the goal of a second gift: be thankful, communicate the impact of the gift, and start a dialogue.

As similar as these principles are, its particularly disappointing when faith-based organizations fail to steward first-time donors. When you combine the low retention rates (according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project) for first-time donors with the high-cost of new donor acquisition, it's imperative that charities focus on first-time donor retention.

After all, you'd hate to see a first-time visitor to your church sit through an entire service without anyone acknowledging them or saying hello. So, why should first-time donors be any different? How you can increase your retention rates for first-time donors?

Here are three ideas for retaining first-time donors:

1. Start highlighting first-time donors.

The first step is to segment your communications and make first-time donors a prominent segment. So often, all of our donor types (frequency, recency, gift size, geography, demographic info, etc.) get lumped into one giant list and are communicated to in the same fashion. At a minimum, first-time donors should be communicated to differently than repeat donors. After all, you probably don't know much about them, and they may not know much about you yet!

So, when reporting on donor this week or this month (however often you generate gift acknowledgements), be sure to highlight the first-time donors and do something special for them.

2. Give donors what they want.

A 2011 study by Donor Voice surveyed the most loyal donors among more than 250 nonprofits. These donors were asked to rank, by order of importance, 32 drivers of donor commitment.

Here were the top seven:

  1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission.
  2. Donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
  3. Donor receives timely a thank you.
  4. Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known.
  5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause.
  6. Donor feels his or her involvement is appreciated.
  7. Donor receives information showing who is being helped.

In other words, donors want to be thanked quickly, feel that they matter and feel that they are making an impact, and want to be invited to share their thoughts and feelings.

The beginning of the donor relationship is an ideal time to start communicating these things, but beware, if you fail to do so, you might not get another chance.

Don't be afraid to pick up the phone to say thank you and then parlay it into a discussion where you learn about what motivated the donor to give for the first time. If that fails, an electronic survey may glean the same information.

3. Humanize your automation.

Online donations boast even lower retention rates than offline gifts (and for good reason!).

Online giving is often impersonal. Even if a genuine personal interaction spurs the donation, donors often encounter a cold, robotic, and automated process that fails to generate the warm and fuzzy feelings that all fundraisers strive for.

Assuming your donation page and form succeeds in converting website visitors into donors, rarely do they receive anything more from your organization than an automatically generated receipt that may or may not even contain the words "thank you."

But it doesn't have to be this way. Even an automated thank you process can make a donor feel special and result in retaining online donors: tell them the impact of their donation, encourage them to share more about why they gave, and set the stage for personal stewardship going forward. All it takes is a few simple tweaks to the assets you likely already have in place to make them adhere to the seven facets of the Donor Voice study.

A fun exercise might be to donate online to your own organization and look critically at what you're communicating (if anything) to online donors. There's no reason automated messaging can't put a smile on a donor's face!

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking your work is done when a donation has been made. Yes, you've gotten them through your doors and into the pew, but you don't stop there! Extend your hand in friendship and get the real relationship started.

It's important to understand what drives donor loyalty and how you can use this knowledge to grow support for your organization. Read more in our new digital resource: The Art and Science of Retaining Digital Donors.

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Steven Shattuck

Written by Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member. He got his start in the nonprofit sector producing fundraising videos and other digital content for organizations like Butler University, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and the American Heart Association.