We’ve conducted a few nonprofit “secret shopping” experiments to see how nonprofits communicate with new donors in the first few days and weeks of the relationship.

This year, we were curious as to how nonprofits steward donors who give for the first time on Giving Tuesday, so we made a $5 donation to 25 individual nonprofits all headquartered in the same top-60 American city.

We examined how each followed up to the gift within the first 14 days of the donation (11/29-12/12). The results are compiled below:


  • Each donation was made on Nov. 29th, 2016
  • All 25 donations were made within 120 minutes, between 11am and 1pm est
  • All 25 of the nonprofits were chosen at random
  • All of the donations were made online through the organization’s own websites
  • We used a real name, real address, real phone # and real email address
  • Each donation constituted a first-time donation to that org. In other words, it was a new entry into their database


  • 10/25 sent an automated donation acknowledgement email and nothing else
  • 1/25 made a phone call (left a voicemail)
  • 0/25 sent stand-alone handwritten notes
  • 7/25 hand-signed their snail mail thank you letters
    • 5/7 hand-wrote a personal note
  • 5/25 made an appeal within 14 days
    • 1/25 appealed for a gift on Giving Tuesday after a gift had been made
      • this organization made a second appeal a few days later
    • 1/25 included an appeal in their first snail mail thank you letter (“thask”)
    • 1/25 sent an event invitation by email

The Full Results:

First-Touch: 25/25 organizations made a first-touch

  • 23/25 sent an automated donation acknowledgement email immediately
    • 10 were labeled as “receipts” in the subject line
  • 2/25 sent a thank you letter by mail

Second-Touch: 13/25 organizations made a second-touch

  • 1/25 left a voicemail saying thank you
  • 3/25 made an appeal via email
  • 9/25 sent a thank you letter by mail
    • 1/9 was a thask

Third-Touch: 3/25 organizations made a third-touch

  • 1/25 sent an e-newsletter
  • 1/25 sent a personal thank you via email
  • 1/25 sent an event invitation via email

Donation page and form anatomy:

  • 17/25 had a clean URL (www.nonprofit.org/donate)
  • 8/25 had a non-native donation form
  • 23/25 asked for a phone #
  • 11/25 required a phone #
  • 14/25 had a recurring gift option
  • 13/25 had giving level options
    • 3/13 justified their giving level options
    • 11/13 had round number giving level options
  • 3/25 had an employee matching option
  • 7/25 gave a choice of funds
  • 21/25 had an SSL certificate

For help crafting the perfect gift acknowledgement letter, download our free Basic Thank You Letter Template here >>


Our hypothesis was that the high gift volumes typically experienced during online days of giving, like Giving Tuesday, would cause even worse results that we had seen in previous experiments. This hypothesis was more or less proven correct. For the first time in our experiments, however, we had no unacknowledged gifts.

  • no organizations referenced Giving Tuesday in their gift acknowledgement / follow-up
  • no organizations referenced the type of donor I was (first-time)
  • few organizations make more than two touches in the first 14 days
  • few organizations justify their giving ladder options
  • phone #s are often asked for but seldom used

Be sure to check out previous “secret shopping” experiments: 2014, 2015 & 2016.

Full 14 Day Cadence:

#1Email Receipt
#2Mail Thank You
#3Email ReceiptEmail AppealEmail Event Invite
#4Email Receipt
#5Email ReceiptVoicemailEmail Thank You
#6Email Receipt
#7Email ReceiptEmail Appeal
#8Email ReceiptMail Thank You
#9Email Receipt
#10Email ReceiptMail Thank You
#11Email ReceiptEmail AppealEmail Newsletter
#12Email Receipt
#13Email ReceiptMail Thank You
#14Mail Thank You
#15Email ReceiptMail Thank You
#16Mail Thank You
#17Email Receipt
#18Email ReceiptMail Thank You
#19Email Receipt
#20Email ReceiptMail Thank You
#21Email Receipt
#22Email Receipt
#23Email Receipt
#24Email ReceiptMail Thanks
#25Email ReceiptMail Thask


What do you think of the results? Should the nonprofits have done something differently? How does your organization follow-up with new donors? Let us know in the comments below!

The Art & Science of Digital Donor Retention

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
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, is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member, and sits on the faculty of the Institute for Charitable Giving. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers - How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media.