7 tips for welcoming new donors

Published by Sarah Clifton on

If your organisation has no difficulty finding and keeping new donors, you are either a very lucky or extremely talented fundraiser, and either way one of few. For the rest of us, it seems a constant challenge to find new and better ways to attract high-quality recruits.

So here’s a few tips to help you keep them, once you do find them:

1.    Tell donors both who you are and what you do

welcome!My partner and I (he is also a fundraiser) both love our jobs. But someone recently asked us both why we chose our respective organisations, and we realized that we had very different answers. He immediately began talking about the projects and the people being helped. But not about the Christian motivations, the long and prestigious Catholic history or the unique and important role of both ordinants and lay-people in the work. (Which are all true, but just wasn’t part of his spontaneous answer.) For him, the passion is for what they do.

I immediately began over the values and the vision of my organisation – what we believe in and stand for. And I realized that this is fundamentally more important to me than whatever work we are doing at any given moment. For me it’s first and foremost about who we are.

The point is that you don’t know what the donors deepest motivations are for choosing your organisation. And you almost certainly have examples of both my partner and me in your new donor file. So make sure that you speak to both of us.

2.    Ask them why those chose you

Do you send all of your new donors a survey? You should, and donors are happy to tell you more about themselves. Ask questions about their motivation, but also about their family situation, their interests and hobbies. Ask for suggestions and feedback as well. The welcome survey is a great way to compile information that will help strengthen your program, and also begin a conversation with the donor right from the get-go.

3.    Close the loop

A more seasoned donor to your org should already know why you need gifts, and what you are doing with their funds. But don’t assume that your newbies do. Confirm right away that you have received the gift. And reasonably soon thereafter tell them how you have used it. There are different schools of thought about how soon to ask for a second gift, but I firmly believe that you first need to let donor know that their donation has been handled in the way they intended. Why would I give you another gift before I know what you did with the first one?

4.    Include the costs of your welcome program in your acquisition metrics

Because really, a one-off gift is just the first date. If you are only focusing on getting a gift or a pledge and then dumping everyone directly into your house program, you are not anticipating the donor’s needs in getting to know you and the relationship will probably be very short-lived.

5.    Do make an effort but don’t go all out

Again, the rules for dating apply. Show interest. Be accessible and open. But don’t be desperate. And leave some things to the imagination!

A donor who doesn’t yet completely and fully trust your sound decisions and wise use of donations probably won’t be impressed by a highly stylized, glossy welcome pack. They may even feel betrayed that you used their hard earned money – which they of course intended to go to your good works – to print and send them expensive materials. And kudos if you have really expensive looking materials that aren’t, but your donor doesn’t know that.

Additionally, the donor centered approach to welcoming – as important as that is – has to be balanced with the reality that finding new donors is expensive. And even more so when factoring in the welcome program. So do keep the costs down.

6.    Be creative!

Nice to meet you!So what are some low-cost but effective ways to capture the donor’s attention and appreciation? Invite them to a new member reception, for example. You can do this at your office if you work locally, and otherwise, libraries often have meeting rooms which are great for these types of gatherings. If your donors are spread out, you can ask local volunteers to hold the events (with some guidance and training from you, of course). And if you don’t have volunteers, ask existing donors! Chances are good you have a few donor fans who would love to do something other than just give money.

Maybe send them a coupon? People love discount vouchers – especially older donors. You may want to offer a discount on merchandise ‘as thanks for their recent support of…’.  And when they redeem the coupon they are also…(get it?)…simultaneously making their second financial transaction.

7.    Review and revise

Don’t just set up your program and let it loose. Determine from the start how and when you are going to evaluate the results. This should include both the numbers – how many donors have made a second gift or converted to recurring – but also the qualitative information that you are getting back in the surveys, and when speaking with donors on the phone.

And speaking of speaking with, call on a few new donors now and then just to get their feedback. Are they enthusiastic and feel welcome? Do they feel appreciated? Do they have your mission statement tattooed on their rear? (Just kidding.) But really, are you inspiring them? You don’t know if you don’t ask.

So, these are my ideas. What are yours?

Sarah Clifton

Sarah is a Dutch / American fundraiser who has worked for animal protection and human rights organizations for more than 15 years. Since 2015, she heads up the Fundraising department at Save the Children Netherlands. She also (tries to) write occasionally and connect with other fundraisers frequently (especially over a beer).


Joseph Cole · May 31, 2012 at 15:11

I think your last tip of “Review and Revise” is absolutely crucial! You mentioned the idea that an expensive welcome package could turn off donors thinking their money should have been used elsewhere. However, for me, a snazzy package would be a sign of what they think of me. It would be a reflection of how they value me, the donor. The only way to know which donor you have is to test your different segments and see how they respond.

    Sarah Clifton · June 4, 2012 at 21:39

    Yes, great point that you should always test. How different (types of) donors experience the materials and messaging can certainly vary by organisation and by target group.

    Just out of curiosity, have you tested a snazzy package? If so, would be willing to share the results and the profile of your donor base with 101 fundraising readers?

Tara Lepp · May 31, 2012 at 16:11

Another way to welcome your donors is a thank you call. If you have a large file of new donors this may be difficult, unless you have a call centre that can do the thanking for you (which isn’t as personal but can still be effective). But you could use volunteers to make some calls. Some organizations call and welcome anyone who has made a gift over a certain amount. This call gives you an opportunity to thank the donors personally but also to start a dialogue and find out what motivated them to give. Some of these calls are very enlightening.

    Sarah Clifton · June 4, 2012 at 21:46

    Completely agree — thank you! The only thing I would add to this is to have a strategy for the calls. What is the primary goal? Upgrading? Asking for a second gift? Or purely welcoming? Thank you calls can be expensive if done by a telemarketing company, so make sure that you know how the calls fit into your total conversion and retention program.

    Make sure that you have set up a way to measure what kind of impact the calls are having on your overall first year donor value if you are working at a larger organisation, and if at a smaller, that this is indeed a good use of volunteer time.

    But absolutely, calling new donors is a great idea. Thanks again!

Rob Hampson · June 1, 2012 at 10:22

Great tips!

Particularily liked point 2 and point 6! Tweet time.

Simona Biancu · June 7, 2012 at 10:51

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your point of view!
I am a consultant and the approach adopted with the organizations I work with is different depending on their chacteristics.
I agree with the thank-you phone call, of course for small organizations: this is the “method” I usually suggest them.
When “We” plan an enlargement of potential donors, the main goal is to set up a relation with people we ask to join the npo.
The first step is the opportunity to let them know “who” the organization is and how it works. My tip is to add an invitation to potential donors to visit the “place” where volunteers and employees work and the projects take place, in order to let them breathe the feeling and make them know there are real people behind a claim or an acronym.
This way is usually really appreciated and it allows us to create an immediate empathy and a circle of interest toward the npo.
I put very high attention to the donor-centric approach: I think it’s the best way to build relationships and, in my view, this issue comes first than all the rest (I mean the claim, the recall and so on).
Thank you again!

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