donor data

Not only is it much easier to upgrade an existing donor than to find and attract new donors, it’s also more cost-effective, saving you and your organization time, talent and money. Moreover, promoting a sense of community throughout your organization is less complicated when the majority of your donor base is comprised of long-term donors. 

One of the most important objectives of good donor engagement is upgrading existing donors, inviting them to increase their next gift, donate more frequently, or step up to the next giving or membership level. By upgrading current donors, you automatically increase your donor retention rates and total annual revenue generation through fundraising. The process can also expand a current donor investment in your organization to include engaging their personal or professional fundraising networks. Donor engagement excellence then becomes a cultivation process that escalates a donor to a brand ambassador. 

Prior to upgrading your current donors, it’s essential to understand the reason why donors upgrade their gifts. Although specifics may vary from person to person, there are basically four fundamental reasons donors are willing to make a greater investment in a particular nonprofit organization: 

  • Strong belief in your Mission, paired with confidence in your organization’s Vision to make an impact.
  • Confidence in an organization’s leadership and team based on demonstrated results. Again, people donate to people, not organizations.
  • Donors recognize your organization’s good engagement of resources through fiscal responsibility and sound fiscal management.
  • Donors upgrade their giving levels is because they were asked to. It’s the number one reason – not rocket science. Even the most effective donor cultivation will yield disappointing results if your organization fails to invite the donor to the next giving level. 

Equally important to knowing why donors upgrade their philanthropy is knowing how to successfully upgrade a donor without making them feel uncomfortable or diminishing their perception of your organization’s value.

Here are 10 strategic steps to skillfully upgrade a donor by leveraging good engagement and a donor-centric approach. 

  1. Promptly, personally acknowledge and thank each donor for their gift or pledge. Ideally, a thank you should be sent within 24-48 hours after the donation has been received to ensure all donors get the clear message that they are valuable to your organization. 
  2. Demonstrate the impact of their most recent gift, using compelling narratives and/or photos to reinforce the need and urgency of your Mission. Also remember to recognize the vital role the donor plays in actualizing your Mission through programs with successful positive outcomes. 
  3. Get to know and understand your donors, using open-ended probing questions to find out how they relate to your Mission; why they donated; how they want to be involved with your organization; and which communication channel(s) they prefer. Any additional information about their personal or professional background can be a tremendous advantage in cultivating the donor and potentially accessing their networks. 
  4. Stay connected with the donor through personal engagement, invitations to tours and special events, publications, your website and social media, consistently demonstrating that you value the donor as much as you do the donor’s dollars. 
  5. Invite them to a special cultivation event, ideally for a shared experience that is either related to your Mission, demonstrates your organization’s Mission, or is of relevance to the donor. Use the unique experience to learn more about the donor and explore their interest in getting more involved with your nonprofit. 
  6. Consistently demonstrate the value your organization brings to a specific cause or need. And equally important, the value your organization has for this specific donor.
  7. Communicate the need and urgency your organization has for more money by demonstrating greater need or demand, new programs, or future plans for expansion. Sharing an experience or providing donors with first-hand exposure to the people, animals or environments that benefit from your organization’s work is far more effective than bombarding them with statistics and uninteresting, industry-specific information.
  8. Rate your donors to determine their capacity to donate more to your organization. Data-driven donor management will enable you to strategically design and present an appropriate ask for a particular donor. 
  9. Prepare and present a specific ask, a definitive dollar amount or giving level. Use the inform-engage-invite technique to explain the ongoing need of your organization or a particular appeal, then candidly engage the donor to enlist their advice or insights. Finally, invite them to take the next step as a meaningful partner to your organization by increasing their donation. 
  10. Convert donors to brand ambassadors by asking them to be an advocate for your nonprofit and invite their personal and professional networks to become involved as donors or volunteers. Always ask for and incorporate their ideas on how they would like to help your organization expand your network. 

How have you succeeded in upgrading donors? Let us know in the comments below!

Brian Lauterbach
With more than twenty years of experience as a fundraiser, consultant and entrepreneur, Brian has helped hundreds of nonprofits and the professionals who lead them to raise money. Throughout his career, Brian has led the process redesign and integration of fundraising channels that raised $400 million from more than 3 million people. He is the founder of TheNonprophets.org, a 501c3 public charity that provides no-cost and low-cost direct fundraising services to organizations with a small budget but a big vision for their missions and impact.
Brian Lauterbach