In just a few years, Giving Tuesday has become a landmark event on the fundraising calendar.
But what happens after Giving Tuesday? How are you retaining all the donors you gained?
In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:
Dan: So, just to kind of get going, today we are really excited about today’s topic. We’re going to talk a little bit about Giving Tuesday. And we have Steven Shattuck from Bloomerang. We’re really excited about talking a little bit about Giving Tuesday and Steven’s going to run through some ideas about retaining donors. So, Steven, welcome. Thank you for your time and again, apologize about the technical difficulties on our end.
Steven: No worries. There are always webinar gremlins. Thanks to all of you for hanging out. We won’t keep you past 2:00 Eastern. I know it’s a busy time of year for everybody. But yeah, thanks for taking the time out to have me and thanks to Aplos for putting this all together. It’s a really important topic.
So, I work at Bloomerang. I also run my own nonprofit because apparently I don’t have enough to do. I know sometimes people don’t like to hear from donor database vendors that much, but I’m really going to be speaking today as a fundraiser. I’m going to be wearing my fundraising hat. But I do travel and speak a lot. So, if you see me, if you see my name on a conference sheet, be sure to stop by, say hi, let me know you heard me on the Aplos webinar because I’d love to meet you in person.
So, we had Giving Tuesday. It’s been couple, 10 days, 14 days or so, almost 14 days. It was a really good Giving Tuesday. We’ve seen Giving Tuesday increase every year since its inception in the early 2010s or so. And I kind of have to give a caveat for you guys. It’s cool Aplos invited me on to talk about Giving Tuesday, but one quick confession–I’m not the biggest Giving Tuesday fan, honestly. I think that it’s hard to do fundraising in an effective way on Giving Tuesday. There’s certainly organizations that do it well.
But I’ve got to congratulate Aplos for framing this presentation in the way that they did because it would have been really easy to have someone come on in November or whatever and just talk about getting Giving Tuesday gifts, but we’re going to talk about how to get those new donors or existing donors who gave to you last week or two weeks ago to give again because I’m kind of a retention guy. Really donor retention is way more important than donor acquisition. I’m going to kind of lay out that case for you this afternoon, this morning.
The other thing with Giving Tuesday is with this growth, there’s a lot of competition. I wrote a blog post last week. I did kind of a rundown of all the Giving Tuesday appeals that I received on the 29th. I received over 40. That was just from organizations that I had only given one gift to. This wasn’t even organizations that I loyally give to year after year. There’s a lot of competition. You’re competing against basically every other nonprofit in the country and in the world on Giving Tuesday and yet, this is the day that we decide to send out an appeal.
So, sometimes these appeals can be lost. Sometimes these appeals can be very impersonal. It’s very hard to kind of stand out amongst the crowd. But I’ve got two pieces of good news for you–it is very easy to stand out amongst the crowd when it comes to gift acknowledgement and donor stewardship and following up with all these donors because not a lot of organizations are doing the things I’m going to be talking about today.
And the second thing that I want to say about it before I move on is don’t lose sight of all the other great days of giving that are about to happen. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve historically have basically dwarfed Giving Tuesday in terms of gift amount and gift volume. Even though we have seen that big growth, and I know this graph is a couple years out of date, but even with that growth we saw in 2016, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve still dwarf Giving Tuesday.
So, if you’re going to send out some appeals, I would maybe recommend doing it on those days, maybe even instead of Giving Tuesday. You don’t have to ignore Giving Tuesday completely, but don’t lose sight of those days. There are not going to be a lot of people sending out email appeals, I guarantee you, on those days. So, it could be a really big opportunity for you.
But Giving Tuesday is still okay. I think you can do a lot of cool things on it and make a difference there. But I just don’t want you to lose sight, especially since today is December 12th and we might be able to make some cool things happen. People want to make those gifts before the end of year, before tax time just to get it on their 2016 taxes. I don’t think you’ll run into much competition there. So, just a little aside before we move on into Giving Tuesday, I don’t want you to lose sight of those two days.
Dan: And then real quick Steven before you . . .
Steven: Yeah, go ahead.
Dan: I just want to remind everybody out there that if you are a Twitter user and you’re active on Twitter, we love to hear from you. You can use the hashtag @aploswebinar or #aploswebinar and at the end of the presentation, Steven will have his Twitter handle as well as mine, so we’d love to interact with you throughout. Then also we’ll do questions at the very end. So, thanks, you guys, and thanks, Steven.
Steven: Yeah, definitely send me those tweets as we go along. So, why retention? I’m not the only person who is interested in retention. In fact, there is an entire think tank that is devoted to donor retention. They’re called the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. You may have heard about them. They’re kind of this really cool collaboration between AFP and the Urban Institute. They study donor retention every year in the United States and nonprofits in North America.
How well are we retaining donors? Are we good at it? Are we bad at it? And it turns out that we’re actually not very good at retaining donors. On average, or I guess the median donor retention rate, to be more specific, is only 43%. So, we’re not very good at retaining the donors we do get. In the ten years they’ve been studying donor retention, they haven’t drilled down into Giving Tuesday specifically for a couple reasons. It might be kind of hard to do that with all the data they collect and because Giving Tuesday is so new.
But there is one stat that they do report on. This is the most recent stat for first-time donors. We are only retaining 29% of first-time donors. If the gift amount is under $100, that retention rate drops to 21%. So, almost 80% of the people who give one gift or their first gift to our organization are never going to give a second gift.
So, as we think about Giving Tuesday gifts–and this is a total assumption–but I would assume the majority of you guys who got Giving Tuesday gifts, I doubt a lot of those gifts were over $100. They were probably maybe around a $5 to $25 range on Giving Tuesday. Lots of small gift amounts. So, you could surmise, perhaps, that Giving Tuesday donors who have never given to our organizations prior to that are perhaps at the most risk of lapsing because it is kind of a massive not a very personal fundraising approach and because the dollar amounts are probably going to be a little bit low, certainly under $100.
That’s why we’re really going to focus on retention here because not retaining those donors can be very expensive for you going into the future and I’ll kind of explain why. The good news is if you can get a second gift from a donor, that retention rate almost triples to 64%.
So, once you get a second gift from a donor, you’re in pretty good shape in terms of retention. Only about 36% of those donors are going to lapse going forward. So, the whole premise of today’s presentation is to kind of give you some ideas of how you can get the second gift from your new Giving Tuesday donors specifically. We’re going to focus on some strategies to do that.
Just as an aside, for as long as they’ve been studying donor retention, haven’t really improved. We’ve basically really been staying in the 40th percentile here. It got us to where it was 39% a few years ago, but this is what I mean by standing out non-retention and stewardship and very personal gift acknowledgements, to be specific. So, it really is a good opportunity to stand out amongst the crowd, especially since you’ve probably been lost in the shuffle or amongst that big crowd on Giving Tuesday as a fundraiser.
So, who cares? Who cares if we’re 39% or 43% or 29%? Well, this little table here illustrates how quickly that pool of donors evaporates. Even if you have an average donor retention rate of 40%, which is a 60% attrition rate, so we’re looking at that bottom row there. That’s just average. That’s you doing pretty good, honestly.
If you have 1,000 new donors in one year, after one year, you’re down to 400 right off the bat. Six hundred donors are completely gone. They’re never going to come back again. So, just to break even on that previous year, you need to acquire 600 new donors just to break even, not even to increase your sustainability or get some extra money in the door. That’s a lot of work. That doesn’t sound very fun to me as a fundraiser, personally, acquiring 600 new donors just to break even.
But then look what happens after five years. You’re down to ten donors from that original donor pool. So, again, to break even, we need 990 new donors to get back to where we were. So those ten people, those are the only people you can even try to solicit a major gift from. If you’re a major gift fundraiser, you know that you need a donor giving to you five, six, seven years before you can even think about starting that process. So, major gift fundraisers really kind of hate this retention issue.
What about dollars raised? This is a super-busy graph and I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it, but I’ll sum it up this way. If you’re an organization who raises $1 million per year, if you can change your donor retention rate by 1%, a 1% increase will get you about $40,000 extra in that year from those donors. Raise your hand if you want an extra $40,000. I’ve got my hand raised for sure.
So, just a small change in your retention, a small improvement can mean a lot of extra money for your bottom line. One thing this table doesn’t illustrate is yeah, those people are donating for you for longer and you’re getting extra money, but they’re probably also doing other things for you. Maybe they’re volunteering, maybe they’re fundraising for you. Maybe they’re on a committee or a board. They’re certainly talking about you. So, keeping those donors around can do other cool things beyond the dollars they raise.
That’s why it’s so important to retain these donors because it really is a significant increase in the revenue that you’re getting year after year. The other thing is it’s very expensive to acquire new donors. The cost of acquiring a new donor is astronomical compared with the cost of just retaining ones you already have. That’s why we’re really going to focus on retaining those new Giving Tuesday donors.
More bad news–I swear, we’ll get to the good stuff here really quickly–but retention is a big deal because donors don’t tend to spread their dollars around to many charities. Even if you’re a one-percenter, if you earn more than $100,000 a year, you’re probably only donating to four to five organizations. You can cut that number in half right away because typically you’re giving to a church you attend or you’re giving to a school that maybe you attend or you send your kids to or your grandkids too.
Really, it’s a rough game of musical chairs. That’s why it’s so important to retain the donors that you have because if you lose them, they’re going to go somewhere else and not spread those dollars between you and somebody else, even if you tip them off, they’re still going to go. So, you’re fighting for a small amount of musical chairs here. That’s organization-supported. Even dollars sent to those organizations, not terribly significant, even among those one-percenters, among those six-figure earners. It still only gets to about $2,000, the median gift amount there annually.
So, retaining these donors you already have, it just makes sense. They already like you. You’ve already gone through the trouble of acquiring them. You’ve made your Giving Tuesday plan. You’ve sent that email. You’ve done all your social media posts. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into it. So, why not do just a couple of quick things to make sure they stick around rather than having to refill that leaky bucket and get back to break even for the people who leave?
So, why are donors leaving? Why do donors lapse? Why do Giving Tuesday donors lapse? I think the things you’re about to see here really come into focus when we think about Giving Tuesday.
Two surveys I want to share with you really quickly. This survey was done by the IU School of Philanthropy here in Indianapolis. They wanted to know why are we at 43% retention. Why are we at 21% on the first-time side? So, the Lilly School of Philanthropy, they reached out to some nonprofits and they asked them to survey their last donors. They basically just wanted to find out, “Hey, why did you stop giving to our organization?” What were their reasons for doing so?
These were the top reasons that were given. You’re going to see some percentage points here. They don’t all add up to 100% people can give different answers. Here are the reasons those last donors gave for why they stop giving. Five percent thought the charity didn’t need them. Eight percent thought that they weren’t given information or told how their dollars were being spent. They wanted to know, “Hey, how are you using my donation?” So, the organization didn’t report back on those outcomes, so the donors stopped giving.
Nine percent had no memory of supporting, which I always think is kind of weird, but look at the next one. This may shed some light on it. Thirteen percent never got thanked for donating. So, just the sheer act of thanking your donors would kept 13% of these guys around, at least, and not even thanking quickly or personally or a handwritten note or whatever, just saying thank you at all would have kept them around.
Sixteen percent passed away, 18% received poor service or communication, 36% thought other organizations were more deserving. So, there’s that musical chair analogy, again, they gave somewhere else. And a little over half can no longer afford their current gift, which always kind of breaks my heart because the nonprofit maybe could have stepped in and say, “We would still appreciate that gift from you. It’s okay if it’s only $50 instead of $100. We still appreciate it. We would still put it to good use. These are all the great things we would do with that money.
Dan: So, there’s an easy lesson here in terms of the work you do year-round, not just on Giving Tuesday.
Steven: Absolutely. And it’s really easy to communicate all these things–how the dollars are being sent, saying thank you, keeping that line of communication open, and showing that you are a deserving organization, that you are actually doing really cool thing with these donations.
So, as we talk about how to retain donors and how to communicate to them, we’re really going to kind of reverse engineer this list and the next list I’m going to share with you, which looks at the other side of the coin–why do donors stay loyal?
This is a survey that was done with very similar methodology. They reached out to loyal donors–people who are still giving to organizations. I think they polled 250 organizations and all of their donors within. So, they asked these loyal donors, “Hey, why do you keep giving? What are the reasons that you keep giving?”
And here were the top seven reasons those loyal donors gave, and this was really interesting because it almost exactly mirrors that previous survey that I shared with you that was completely different data set, almost ten years’ difference, but it’s on the exact other side of the coin.
So, the number one reason was that the donor perceives that your organization is effective. So, you do what you say you’re going to do and you report on those outcomes. This whole issue of outcomes reporting is something that is going to run through the rest of the presentation. Donors really feel like their gift is an investment in your organization. They want to know, “How are you using my dollars? Are you being a good steward? What kind of successes are you having with my donations?”
We want to know. We feel like we are trying to create these outcomes in the world. It’s not just what the organization is doing, but it’s what kind of change the donor is creating in the world. We’ve got to communicate that back.
Two–donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction. This one is a little nuanced. I’m going to kind of give you some negative examples of ways that nonprofits don’t follow that one. We’ll dig into that as well.
Three–and three is my favorite–donor receives a timely thank you. So, here’s the gift acknowledgement thing comes up. The number three reason is not just that the donor is thanked. We saw from the previous survey that sometimes donors are not thanked at all, but that they are thanked in a timely manner. They’re thanked quickly. They’re thanked very soon after the gift is made. We’re going to look at that as well.
Donor receives opportunities to make his or her views known. This is kind of a feedback mechanism. You’re keeping that line of communication open. Maybe you’re soliciting feedback, not just willing to receive it, but actively soliciting it.
Five–kind of similar to number one, donor is given the feeling that he or she is part of an important cause. Donor feels they are appreciated and the donor receives information showing through as being helped. So, there’s the outcomes thing again.
So, this is it. If you want to retain donors, this is all you’ve got to do. Thank them quickly, let them know how you’re going to use their gift and how you have used their gifts, keep the line of communication open and make sure you’re not sending anything that is weird. You’re not appealing for a gift the day after someone donates.
You’re using their preferred communication channels and you’re not sending things that are misspelled. You’re using the donor’s name. You’re not sending something to maybe someone who has passed away and the surviving spouse is receiving that and then there are all kinds of negative feelings prop up there.
So, really what we’re going to do the rest of the time is give you some ideas of how you can do these seven things for your Giving Tuesday donors. You still have time. I know a few days have passed, 10 days or so, 14 days or so, but you still have time to do these things and I’m giving you some ideas.
Now, what tends to happen with Giving Tuesday gifts is because it’s such a high volume and perhaps kind of an impersonal method of fundraising is someone donates online, our donor database or our PayPal or whatever sends an automated receipt and that’s it.
That’s all these donors get from us because it’s December, it’s end of year, we’re super busy. Maybe we’re still wrapping up that end of year campaign. We don’t think about it. Donors don’t consider receipts, email receipts, to be a gift acknowledgement because they’re not a gift acknowledgement.
This looks like something I’d get a supermarket or the gas station. And we’re donating to organizations. We’re not buying tires. We’re not buying a gallon of milk. We’re trying to transform their mission and fund their mission.
I think that this is why not just Giving Tuesday donors but all online donors are at a very great risk of lapsing because this is all we tend to send to people. They get this perfunctory receipt and that’s it. Then what do we do afterwards? We’re sending them more appeals, direct mail, email newsletters. And they haven’t really received anything from us that is very warm, that truly thanks the donor.
Look at both of these receipts. They barely say thank you at all. We’re certainly not telling them how we’re going to use their donations or maybe how past donations have been used and there’s no open line of communication, right? This is from some robot. It’s from our database. It’s from eTapestry or Bloomerang or whatever and it’s not from a human being. So, it doesn’t feel like there’s really an open line of communication.
This is an issue that I’m a little bit obsessed with, maybe to a fault, perhaps. I like to do little secret shopping experiments. I like to isolate one major metropolitan city and make several gifts to random nonprofits in those cities just to see, “Hey, what are they sending? What are they sending to new online donors? Are they doing some of these things from the survey that I’ve been sharing with you?”
And I have something really cool to share with you guys. This has never been seen before. But I made some gifts on Giving Tuesday a few days ago.
Dan: Which by the way, before you do that, I would say as a nonprofit leader out there, I think that’s a great idea that you should be doing, just give to other organizations.
Steven: Oh, yeah.
Dan: Just see what that feels like. We get so involved in our own work that we forget. If you’re a nonprofit leader, do exactly that. So, Steven, that’s a great idea.
Dan: I can’t wait to see.
Steven: Yeah. Give to organizations like yourself, give to organizations that are not like yourself but maybe are in a geographic radius and see what other people do. You may get some cool ideas from people who do these things here.
Dan: Here’s my hypothesis. I thought the Giving Tuesday follow up and stewardship would be the worst out of all of the experiments we’ve done. This is the fourth time we’ve done it. And my hypothesis was proved correct. I got 23 email receipts. I got 12 thank you letters in the mail, one of them included an appeal. So, they had a little envelope and they asked me for a gift in the thank you. I called that a thask. It’s like an ask and a thank you. We definitely would not encourage anyone to do that. It violates all of those things we just went over in the survey.
No handwritten notes. I got one phone call. I would say only one organization out of the 25 really kind of did anything special. They left me a very nice voicemail, “Hey, Steven, thanks so much for the gift on Giving Tuesday. We really appreciate it. We can’t wait to show you all the cool things we’re going to do with that gift going forward.”
Then afterwards, of course, I started to get appeals and other things. I received email newsletters, an event invitation, which was interesting because I do not live in the city at all and I doubt I would travel to that event. What really got me is the amount of appeals, five appeals total–the one ask, the one event invitation and the three email appeals. One organization sent me an appeal by email on Giving Tuesday, just a few hours after I had made a donation.
Steven: That tells me that they didn’t suspend me from perhaps a previous scheduled appeal that was already going out. We don’t do that. We’re not very good at segmenting our current donors and communicating to them in a way that makes sense just for them. So, I was a little disheartened by these results. You can read the full blog post on your own if you want to look at the full results there. But I’d say only really one organization out of the 25 really did anything that had a remote chance of keeping me retained going forward.
I know when I’d show these experiments, a couple people always say–maybe some of you are thinking this right now–“Well, Steven, you only gave $5. What did you expect? No one’s going to throw a parade in your honor.” But so much of this can be automated. It’s an issue of maybe just editing these receipts to be a little bit more friendly and personal.
A phone call doesn’t take that much time, honestly. I think it takes less time than perhaps generating a snail mail letter and putting it in an envelope and writing the address and mailing it. Those things aren’t very impactful or personal at all. So, in order to stand out amongst the crowd and really make that donor feel special doesn’t take any more time. I think it takes less time than the things we’re already used to doing, which aren’t really impactful.
So, what should we be doing? We should be thanking quickly. That does not include the receipt. That receipt that I received on the same day of the gift, that’s not a thank you. I was waiting days and weeks and in some cases for those actual thank yous via mail.
Going overboard with appreciation, showering the donor with appreciation, “Hey, Steven, we can’t thank you enough. You’re a new donor, we love that,” letting the donor know or reiterating what kind of donor they are, “Hey, thanks for your first gift. We can’t wait to get this relationship going with you. We’d love to learn more about you just as much as you want to learn about us,” always keeping that donor-centric tone. It’s always about the donor.
Telling the donor, “Hey, how are we going to use that gift?” Maybe it’s going towards a specific fund or a campaign or a project or maybe there was a recent success story we had, “Steven, thanks for the gift. I just want to tell you a story of a recent graduate who went through our program. He’s the first kid to graduate college in his family. A big part of that was all the work that our donors do to support our services.”
So, even though none of these organizations have spent my donation yet, but you can always tell them how previous donations have had an impact, perhaps. Telling them what comes next. So, we saw from the survey that one of the top reasons is that the donor knows what to expect from your organization with each interaction.
So, we’d be telling them, “Hey, thanks for your gift. We’re going to be sending your email newsletter or be on the lookout for a thank you letter in the mail or be on the lookout for an event invitation. Check out our social media profiles to see some cool stories there,” always be telling them what kinds of things you’re going to be sending going forward and none of the 25 gifts that I made did that at all. Perhaps that would have lessened the annoyance of getting maybe an appeal or an event invitation or a newsletter because we don’t necessarily expect those things or want those things.
Then lastly keeping the lines of communication open, soliciting feedback, giving the donor an email address, a name and a phone number they can reach out to to ask questions, maybe even sending a survey. “Hey, Steven, you’re a first-time donor. We’d love to learn more about you. Would you mind filling out this quick survey?” Just the act of being sent the survey has been known to increase retention because it makes sense. It shows the organization really wants to know something about that donor. And none of the gifts I made did this. Only that one voicemail really kind of created that opportunity for a one to one communication.
Dan: I’ve never met a donor or know of an organization that has said that the donors felt like they were thanked too much. You can never over-thank a donor.
Steven: Absolutely not. I definitely got under-thanked, except for maybe that one voicemail.
Dan: That’s fascinating.
Steven: Yeah. So, how are we going to do this? I think the easiest way to tackle this is to begin to segment your donors. So, this is kind of my homework for all of you listening is isolate the people who gave to you on Giving Tuesday, two weeks ago. I would put them into at least four buckets. So, you have two buckets for new donors who have only given once on that Giving Tuesday and you have two buckets for donors who have given to you in the past but also gave on Giving Tuesday.
And then I would further divide them by gift size. So, calculate your average gift amount. Maybe it’s $100. Maybe it’s $25, whatever it is for your organization. Put them in a separate bucket. So, new donors who are below average and repeat donors and repeat donors who are below average and then new and repeat donors who are above average.
And then what you can do is begin to communicate to these donors in a different way. We want to send four thank you letters. We want to send four different appeals going forward. We want to do something different for these donors because a new donor needs something different than a repeat donor or perhaps to put it a better way, repeat donors do not need to hear the same things from you as a new donor. It’s a new relationship. You don’t know each other yet.
So, maybe for the new donor who is above average, maybe those are the people you make a phone call to if you were worried about being able to call all these donors which can be a lot of work, I would call the new donors who are above average, maybe someone gave $100 on Giving Tuesday for the first time. You don’t know them. Get that person on the phone. That’s a huge opportunity to learn about them, say thank you in person and get that relationship going forward.
A repeat donor who has given below average, maybe he gave $10 on Giving Tuesday, he’s made a few annual gifts before in the past–think about ways that you can appeal to that donor that are unique. Perhaps you want to introduce monthly giving to that donor. “Hey, Steven, thanks for the $10 Giving Tuesday gift. You’ve given to us loyally in the past. We really appreciate it. You’re making all these awesome things happen. By the way, would you ever consider maybe a $10 monthly gift? This is the kind of impact you can make through those gifts.”
So, when you start to segment your donors in this way, you can really do some interesting, personalized communications towards all of them and increase your chances of getting a meaningful reaction. Because I know those 25 gifts I made on Giving Tuesday, I got the same thank you letter that every single other Giving Tuesday donor got, regardless of whether they were a new donor or repeat donor, how much they gave. Any information I gave on their donation form, I know they sent one letter to every single donor because the letters I got were not personalized. Most of them didn’t even use my name and none of them talked about the fact that I was a first-time donor, none of them shared any demographic information that I had given. You’ve got to get away from this.
Appeals are the same way. I know that over the next 6 to 12 months, I’m going to get the same appeal that every other type of donor is going to get just because I’m in the system. That’s probably why I got that appeal automatically because I just got thrown into the system. There was already an appeal scheduled and my name got added and I got that appeal. So, it’s not acknowledgements. It’s the appeals as well. You can do some really interesting things when you break up your donors.
So, this is my main homework for you is to run four reports in your donor database or whatever you’re using. If you’re using Excel, you can still make it happen. Isolate them into four groups. Then think about what are we going to do? How are we going to thank these donors if we haven’t already thanked them and what are we going to send them the rest of the year that really makes sense for that specific type of donor? Maybe it’s a phone call, a survey, a monthly gift ask, maybe it’s a volunteer invitation.
Those repeat donors who are below average, those are awesome potential volunteers because they obviously like you, but they have maybe limited financial means. They’re not making big gifts. But let’s see if they would become a volunteer and give in other ways that are meaningful. So, you can do lots of different personalized asks when you segment this way.
So, for new donors, let them know that you know it’s their first gift. “Hey, Steven, thanks for your gift. It’s the first time you’ve given. We’re so excited. How did you hear about us? What’s your interest in the cause?” Get that conversation going. Tell them how their gift will be use and perhaps tell them a story of how previous gifts have been used–success stories, outcome stories. Let them know what comes next. “Hey, over the next few months, we’re going to be sending your newsletter. We have our big event in March. This is the event. Be on the lookout for that invitation. We’d love to see you there.”
New donors, if you can call them, call them. If they have given you a phone number, if that phone number was not required on their donation form, please call these guys, that’s an invitation. If you can’t, at least a handwritten note, just something that shows that you spend a little bit more time in that gift acknowledgement. These are also great donors to survey. Send them a quick Survey Monkey link, two or three questions, why did you give, what’s your connection to the cause? Find out something about them because that will inform your efforts going forward.
For repeat donors, you don’t have to do a lot of those things. I would certainly acknowledge, “Hey, thanks for giving all of those things.” I would certainly acknowledge, “Hey, thanks for giving on Giving Tuesday. We know that’s kind of an extra thing. You’re an annual donor and you’ve already given your annual gift. Hey, we want to say thank you for that extra Giving Tuesday gift.”
So, sort of acknowledge that they did something above and beyond. They’ll appreciate that. Do something unique for them. Maybe it’s a handwritten note. Maybe you shoot them a little thank you video. Remember, these are already loyal donors. You really want to do something for these folks to make sure they stay with you. Again, there are not a lot of chairs left on the dance floor for dollars being spread around.
Maybe as you think about future appeals, and I’ve said this before, but based on their dollar amount or frequency, maybe you introduce a major gift fundraising process, maybe a monthly gift ask, maybe it’s bequest giving or legacy giving, but make sure that appeal is not just the same appeal that you’re sending to every single donor. Do something different for them, something that makes sense based on how much they’ve given and how long they have been given because you may sort of cannibalize your efforts there by offending them based on your ask or making an ask that doesn’t really make sense for those guys.
When it comes to thanking your donors, timeliness, we saw that “timeliness” word, get that thank you out as quickly as possible. If you haven’t sent your formal thank you, whether it’s a letter or another email or a phone call or whatever you do, I challenge you to get that out today, it has been two weeks and that timeliness is kind of running out there. Make sure you tell them what comes next in that communication track.
And use their communication preference. If they didn’t give you a phone number, don’t go looking for their phone number and call them. They may not want that. If they gave online and you don’t have their mailing address or you didn’t get that from the credit processor, perhaps, you might have to use email, but maybe look at previous gifts and the ways they have given. If they’ve sent you checks in the mail and haven’t made many digital gifts, kind of use those context clues to decide how you’re going to acknowledge that gift.
You don’t have to choose one. You can do two out of three or all three, perhaps. Like Dan said, no one really complains about being thanked too much. You can be appealed too much, perhaps, but not thanked, I don’t think.
Dan: Well, the other thing that a lot of nonprofits workers this time of year talk about, “I don’t have time. I don’t have time.” Those are great ways to get your board involved and some of your volunteers to come in. You can have board members making phone calls. You can have staff. You can have program participants, alumni from your nonprofit, get on the phone and make those calls. I think those are excellent tips.
Steven: That’s a great idea. I would even go a step further, Dan, and say that there is nothing more important than this. Retaining donors and making your current donors feel special should be the top priority because it can be so expensive to lose these people and have to go out and acquire new donors and start this all over again. It’s a treadmill, right?
Steven: We spend so much time acquiring these donors. It’s expensive. It’s time-consuming, but we just forget about the people who are already excited about us because there are other things to do, “We’ve got to put this event on or we’ve got to get our appeal out the door before December 1st or whatever it is. But this is the most important. This should be the top priority.
This is just some data for you. The “timely” word is kind of nebulous. But here’s some data that shows that 48 hours is kind of a nice little timeframe. I know we’re way past 48 hours. But this kind of shows you why you should get those gift acknowledgements out the door so quickly. It increases retention rates. It also increases the next gift size depending on who does the thanking there.
So, some research that you can dig into as well–donor centricity. Print out your thank you letter and cross off any “we” and “I” and turn it into a “you.” You want it to be all about the donor. You’re the hero of this story. You’re doing all these awesome things. We couldn’t do these things without you. Nine times out of ten, you can transform that we word to you and the sentence is still grammatically correct.
So, if you use Bloomerang, you can do this automatically. If you don’t have Bloomerang, print out your letter, get a red pen, do it the old-fashioned way. I think Microsoft Word can help you do this with just a find and replace tool as well. But make sure those communications are donor-centric. Do it for your letters, your emails, your newsletter, everything you send out with written words, you want to be as donor centric as possible.
Subject lines–avoid words like “receipt.” Most of the 25 gifts I gave, I think 10 or 12 of them, I got a receipt and that was it. It just felt very transactional. It didn’t feel personal. It didn’t really give me those warms and fuzzies. So, maybe do something more fun, like, “Hey, what’s the impact?” You just changed a life or you just put a kid through college or you just saved this puppy. Make them start to think about the impact of the gift even before they open up that email.
Speaking of keeping lines of communication open, you can’t do that when you’re sending emails from a robot. Maybe your donor database automatically defaults to an email address like this, but get rid of those. Have it come from [email protected] or [email protected]. Make it come from a person so they can reply to you and not only just enable them to reply to you but ask them to reply. Send them a survey, ask them questions, solicit feedback. Make them feel like you care what they think about the organization and about the mission and that you want to help.
Don’t be afraid to solicit that feedback, be proactive about it. Create a quick survey on Google Forms or Survey Monkey. You can put that in all your automatic email responses. You can send that out in your one-off email thank yous. It’s a quick win right there. Not everyone is going to fill out the survey. That’s not really the point.
Just the sheer act of soliciting that feedback is going to make them feel good. And if you get some survey responses, there’s some data for you that maybe you can put into action with that donor or with your future donors going forward. So, it’s a quick win. It’s not going to do any harm, certainly. So, surveys are great. I love surveys, especially for new donors because you don’t know them yet.
When you think about changing these receipts into true email acknowledgements, they should really just look like letters but in electronic form. Go into your donor database and if you’re sending out a boring grocery store receipt, change it into a nice email thank you. Send them back to your website, tell them what you’re going to send them, send them a video clip or a photo, make these into true gift acknowledgements.
And if you’re sending an email after that, those emails can be just as personal and just as impactful. I really like this one. I would recommend getting the slides. We’ll send the slides, but this is one you can kind of copy. “Thank you for investing,” so this “investment” word comes up. You’ve got a nice photo that shows the real impact of the work they do. There’s lots of great language in that text there. I won’t read it all to you, but they do some really cool things.
Give them something to do. Send them to social media, send them back to your website, send them to a survey, give those donors something to do. Keep them engaged because if they just give and you send the receipt, that’s the end. You may not hear from them again until next year when you send out that appeal. But keep that communication going forward. Keep them engaged. Give them something to do.
If you send letters through the mail, do something to stand out. All these letters that I got . . .
Steven:Yeah. And I’m not suggesting that you send mad-libs to all your donors. Don’t run out and tell your development director that this crazy guy from Bloomerang said we need to send mad libs, but all those letters I got, none of them stood out.
They all looked basically the same. They all looked very templated, “Thanks for your donation, Blah, blah, blah, see you next year.” But people open their mail over the recycling bin in their kitchen or in their home office. You want something that a person is going to put on their fridge or on their mantle–handwritten notes, photos, something fun. This one really shows they took some time to personalize the gift acknowledgement.
Dan: In the same line as making donations to nonprofits, I would say as a nonprofit leader, collect those too.
Steven: Oh yeah.
Dan: I get a lot, just like you do, Steven. I get those in the mail and I put them in a basket and go through them and then I make stacks of ones that kind of turn me off and ones that I really love. I think that’s a good exercise.
Dan: One of our listeners, Mary Barcworth