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If the adage “people give to people, not organizations” is true, then getting to know our donors personally is paramount to fundraising success.

There’s no shortage of intelligence we can gather about donors: their interests, their family situation, their hopes and dreams. Knowing who, what and when to ask can be challenging, but there’s one question that is a great conversation starter for new donors:

“What moved you to give for the first time?”

Knowing the answer to this question is one of the most powerful insights that you can ever gain from a donor.

Here are three reasons why you should ask sooner rather than later:

1) Donors lapse because we don’t communicate properly.

Knowing why they gave for the first time will inform how you steward them to make future gifts or other meaningful interactions, such as volunteerism.

Donor Voice found that three of the top seven reasons why donors stay loyal is directly tied to organization perception:

  • 1. Donor perceives your organization to be effective in trying to achieve its mission.
  • 5. Donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause.

When you know why they give, you can communicate specific organizational outcomes that you know will resonate with them, and thus further endearing them to the work you do. Saving this information in your donor database will allow you to leverage that information when appealing and acknowledging future gifts.

2) The period of time between the first and second gift is the most critical.

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the donor retention rate for first-time donors is only 29%. For gifts under $100, it drops to 21%.

However, if you can get the second gift, the retention rate jumps to 64%.

When you can demonstrate that you care about the donor and put personal knowledge of them to work in your communications, stewarding them towards their second gift should be easier and more natural.

3) It’s easy to get the answer through proper gift acknowledgement.

Hopefully, you are reaching out personally to first-time donors. One of the best ways to acknowledge a first time gift is over the phone. Consider that:

  • first-time donors who get a personal thank you within 48 hours are 4x more likely to give a second gift (Tom Ahern)
  • a three-minute thank-you call will boost first-year retention by 30%. (Roger Craver / The Agitator)
  • a thank-you call from a board member to a newly acquired donor within 24 hours of receiving the gifts will increase their next gift by 39%. (Penelope Burk)

Once you’ve got them on the phone, take the opportunity to learn more about them. Asking about their connection to the cause is a great lead-in to an in-person conversation or tour.

If you aren’t calling donors or don’t have a phone number yet, asking in an email acknowledgement or one-off email is just as good. You might even consider sending a short “new donor survey” by email.

Alternatively, you could ask this question on your online donation form. Just know that the question will be visible to all donors, not just first-time donors. It’s more powerful to segment out first-time donors from within your donor database and reach out personally. The earlier on in the relationship you get this information, the faster you can put it to use (perhaps even in that first gift acknowledgement).

The more you know about your donor’s connection to your cause, the more effective your donor communications will be. Asking a new donor why they gave is a great first step towards a life-long relationship.

Are you asking donors, first-time or otherwise, why they give? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!

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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.
Steven Shattuck