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How To Avoid A Catch-And-Release Acquisition Strategy And Create One That Retains New Donors

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One of the most common questions that we get about new donor acquisition is, “How can I recoup my investment?”

While there are several answers to this question, getting a return on your investment (ROI) really starts with two key things: new donor retention and second gift conversions.

You might be thinking that attracting first-time donors is what matters most in an acquisition campaign. If so, you’re probably dedicating your time and resources to the fundraising strategies designed to attract those donors.

However, while that first gift is incredibly important, this is also the time to be thinking about how to get that second gift or “golden donation” from your first-time donors. Yes, you should be thinking about this before you acquire them!

In fact, unless you think through your second gift strategy, you may end up with a bunch of one-time givers, which is not going to fulfill the purpose of your acquisition campaign or help as much with your longer-term ROI.

So, how do you set a second gift strategy? You start by focusing on your end goal and asking yourself, “Am I bringing in the donors of my dreams? If not, how can I do so?”

Picture the ideal way you would like to cultivate and solicit your new donors. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I want to offer premiums or freemiums in the cultivation process?
  • Do I want to cultivate first-time donors with direct mail?
  • Do I want to cultivate first-time donors online or via email?
  • Do I want to send monthly givers more than an additional one to two extra appeals each year?

The issue that most nonprofits face is they acquire a donor in one channel and hope to convert them to a different channel later on. While we hate to say it, “hope” isn’t an actual acquisition strategy. You need to take the right steps to create a plan that converts them into donors and encourages them to give again in the future.

For example:

  • If you want to cultivate your donors with direct mail, then your acquisition strategy should also include sending future communications and appeals via direct mail.
  • If you want to cultivate your donors via email, you should explore additional avenues like inviting them to participate in a peer-to-peer campaign or interacting with your nonprofit on social media.
  • If you want most donors to be monthly givers, you will want to focus on acquiring them via online channels rather than via direct mail.

Another important element of an acquisition campaign is adding new donors to a Welcome Email Series. This email series is in addition to the automated acknowledgement email you send immediately after they make their donation; in that email, you should provide a receipt for their donation and thank them for supporting your mission.

Although the cadence will vary on what works for your supporters, you should start by sending the first two or three emails within a day or two after they make their first donation. After that, see how they respond—what your open and click-through rates are—when you send the rest of your series every other day or so. If you’re seeing lower open and click-through rates than you’d like, one thing to adjust is the cadence; try sending the emails a little more spread out.

With a Welcome Series, you should:

  • Use the channel you plan to use for cultivation. For instance, if you’re going to use email as your cultivation channel, you could add a donor acquired through a peer-to-peer acquisition campaign to your Welcome Series.
  • Focus on cultivating or building a relationship with your new donor. In these emails, share how their first donation made a direct impact on your mission and thank them for helping you make that impact.
  • Share an engagement piece like a survey or petition. This gets your donors in the habit of interacting with your messages, which will increase their knowledge of and loyalty to your cause.
  • Share another story that focuses on another need. As with your first appeal, the goal will be to move your new donors’ hearts and help them connect further with your organization and the work you’re doing.
  • Make the second ask. Getting this second gift so early in the relationship will help turn these new donors into the donors of your dreams.

When making the second ask, you can take two approaches: You can either ask for a single gift or a monthly or recurring gift. How do you decide which ask to make? A lot of organizations segment which ask to make based on a new donor’s first gift. If the first gift was smaller—for instance, less than $20—you may want to ask for a smaller monthly donation like $7 per month. If the first gift was larger, then asking for a second one-time gift of a similar size could be the best strategy for your organization.

You need to take the necessary steps to ensure you aren’t just catching and releasing the new donors that you worked so hard to acquire. Why? Because the only true way to recoup the ROI of your acquisition campaigns is to convert these newly-acquired donors into long-term givers.

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