Finding committed donors from disaster responders

Published by Sean Triner on

A devastating earthquake hits Nepal. Many people are killed, and tens of thousands are without shelter, clean water and food. International organisations from nation states, UN and NGOs respond fast.

People all over the world see the disaster on TV, are stirred emotionally and want to help. They want to do something to help. So they do what they can – and make a donation.

These are beautiful human beings that want to help others. They want to help strangers, often on the other side of the world in place they have never been and will never go. But they care.

Some of these people are not ‘traditional’ donors. They have not responded to other media. Jeff Brooks, author of the best fundraising blog Future Fundraising Now wrote in his recent blog

“New donors you get through disaster fundraising will have terrible retention rates — tens of percentage points less than you’re used to. That’s because you get a lot of younger and less-committed donors who have no intention of ever giving again. There’s not much you can do about it other than avoid throwing good money after bad.”

I agree with his first bit, but not his last. You can do something about it. Our latest study of Australian donors shows that the average regular giver (sustainer in American) is much younger than your traditional cash donor.

Mean ages are around 43 and 72 respectively. So, if emergency donors are younger they could be good regular giving prospects.

cash and regular givers by age

Indeed, they are. Many charities spend lots of money generating ‘leads’ for calling people to get regular gifts. They are pleased if they get 6% conversion on the phone. This usually means the donor acquisition costs are cheaper than their normal largest source of new donors, face to face.

But with emergency donor conversion in excess of 7% after a couple of weeks, and the leads effectively ‘free’ we should be getting even better returns.

Charities who are already working on regular giver (sustainer) calling programs will find specialist agencies can quickly switch calls to emergency donors for a better return. If this could be done within days I imagine 10% response of those we speak to should be achievable.

But we can do even more – calling and emailing people and asking them for a second donation makes a lot of sense too. And it is worth testing a second gift ask, then a regular gift ask vs straight to regular giving.

In lieu of established testing, I propose this donor journey for new donors:

  1. Charity appeals for funds in media: Press ads, social media, digital advertising, TV ads, TV presenters appeal directly, Phone, direct mail, email, radio, through churches, temples and through corporate supporters.
  2. Donations come in through these channels:
    a. Online
    b. Post
    c. Phone
    d. Fax (yes, there are still some!)
    e. Collection points (e.g. banks)
  3. Thank quickly – email, explaining that the donors money is having an impact straight away. DEBIT FAST. It doesn’t make sense to have an emergency appeal then not debit as quick as possible.
  4. Follow up all donations that meet a certain criteria with a second cash gift ask within hours – whilst the media frenzy is still happening.
  5. Follow up AGAIN as media dies down, or within ten days – whichever is sooner, and ask for a regular gift (sustainer).
  6. Thanking and updating throughout by email.
  7. Use retargeting and social media to ‘follow’ these donors with ads and posts relevant to the emergency. And post emergency, keep them in mind for acquisition campaigns.

When the Nepal earthquake hit I was working on an interactive article giving more detail on this plan.

I decided to make this available as a step by step guide, which will include how to work with the data, make the most out of the targeting, how to use social information, lot of examples and more.

If you want the article which I am prioritising right now, please let me know by clicking here and I will send you it shortly!

Sean Triner

In 2002, Sean moved to Australia and joined forces with Australian data-expert, Paul Roberts, to form Pareto Fundraising. Their ambition was to apply what they had learned from years of pushing the boundaries in the UK to help Australia’s best charities increase their income and donor bases beyond their dreams. Challenging, fun and always practical, Sean is an energetic speaker who leaves conference, seminar and Masterclass attendees inspired, motivated and buzzing with brilliant ideas about how to take their fundraising to the next level. Sean is also a ‘trained’(!) stand up comedian, deadly snake rescuer and story teller. Useful skills for presenting and article writing.


John George Riise · April 30, 2015 at 14:38

I would like to suggest adding a second ask already in the donation receipt with the possibility for the donor to do more. For instance starting an online peer-to-peer campaign. We have seen good conversion rates on this and it gives even more donors as well as moves donors up the ladder of engagement.

Gail Gardner · May 9, 2015 at 00:19

I am looking for a nonprofit that enables directed donations to friends and family. Normally we would use PayPal, but to limit fraud they have blocked the entire country of Nepal.

Hopefully, a solution already exists. If one does not, someone should build it. Many people would be willing to donate through a trusted source and pay a percentage to get money directly to their friends and family in times of need.

The entity that builds this solution would make strong profits from the service and raise money from people who don’t trust that what they give will ever trickle down to their own friends and family. I know as of now that the people I know there have seen none of the millions that have been raised for Nepal’s earthquake and need money quickly for clean water, food and shelter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *