The recent article in Fundraising Detective titled “Donor retention: a tale of two cold mailings” by Craig Linton opened the flood gates of my memory of a year-long experiment I tried with numerous new employees of my fundraising software company eTapestry several years ago. I will save the experiment details for after the quick summary and hearty recommendation of Craig’s article.

Benefits of a Structured New Donor Welcome Process

The essence of Craig’s article is the implementation of a structured “welcome process.” His process illustration is pictured below.

Although his sample group was small, the effect on donor attrition, and therefore donor loyalty was quite significant in my opinion. I wonder how many non-profits could drastically change their retention rates and loyalty by sitting down and creating a similar flow chart of what happens when a first gift comes in from a new donor. I truly believe it is worth the extra time and effort to see!

Every Fundraiser Can Easily Conduct New Donor Welcome Process Research

This is where the plot thickens a bit and actually turns into fun. The story I was alluding to above is about a unique training I used for new employees who would be helping our fundraising customers. Although certainly not enough in size and scope to be considered statistically valid, it was quite enlightening. Little did I know it would turn into a mini-MBA in on-line and direct response new donor relationship building.

The experiment was simple, yet yielded impressive insights. Each new employee was given $50 and asked to make either five $10 donations or ten $5 donations to a charity they had not donated to before.

$50 is not bad for a mini-MBA!

I urged them to do both online and mailed donations. I also asked them to mix it up between local and national non-profits as well as both large and small. The challenge to my employees was for them to measure and report back to me 90 days later these three key results.

  1. Did the NPO thank them and how quickly was it done?
  2. How did the thank you make them feel?
  3. Did the NPO do anything beyond the thank you over the next 2-3 months?

When I met with each employee I hardly had to ask the following question:

Which NPO did the best job of building a relationship with them and who would they be most likely to continue to support?

As you might guess every single employee knew the answer, and in fact, most pontificated for 15 minutes or more about how they felt regarding each and every NPO they donated to. Perhaps this might be a good training exercise for all first year fundraisers?

Both Scary and Satisfying Experiment Results

The results were both scary and satisfying. Some of those employees are still supporting a few of those very same charities.

What was scary?

  1. Several of the NPO’s dis not even thank the new donor
  2. Some thanked them more than a month later
  3. Most never did anything else in the way of communication

What was satisfying?

  1. Even for a $5 new gift some NPO’s thanked the donor promptly and profoundly
  2. A few sent a survey asking how they heard about the NPO and what their future communication preferences were
  3. A few sent a recent newsletter within a week or two
  4. The best of the NPO’s had a relationship built within 90 days!

I am betting most of the NPO’s in the latter category had created and were using a welcome process flow chart or set of guidelines somewhat like the one pictured above.

Are the above ideas and processes earth shattering new practices or just plain old good common sense relationship building? I believe it is good common sense and could be used by nearly every NPO who engages in fundraising.

What do you think? Is it worth a try to see what possible profound effect it could have on your donor loyalty and long term support? Leave a comment and let me know.

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & CEO at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012 and currently serves as the Chairman of the AFP Ethics Committee.
Jay Love
Jay Love