The big stewardship mistake

Oftentimes, I’ve been told by non-profit organizations that they have limited resources and cannot implement a donor-centered communication program to steward their donors. After trying hard not to roll my eyes, I find myself forcing a smile and encouraging them to segment their range of gifts (ROG) chart and get as personal as possible (e.g. handwritten notes, periodic phone calls, and a face-to-face visit or two) with their largest donors. This seems to work and it moves them in the right direction, however …

It was not the BEST advice I could have given them!

Penelope Burk says it best on page 111 of her book “Donor Centered Fundraising“:

“Which donors need the most diligent investment from you? The answer is the ones whose loyalty is not yet secure, the ones whose current affiliation with your not-for-profit may still be tenuous. And who are they? They are your first time donors, those new contributors who demonstrate the highest rate of attrition between the first gift and the next ask.”

So, if I could go back in time or hit the “do over” button, I would tell those non-profit and resource development professionals to get really personal with the top 10% or so of their ROG chart. The after taking a cleansing breath, I would double down and tell them to put together a special stewardship program for first time donors. And by special, I mean more than just the typical gift acknowledgement letter and flurry of newsletters. Here are just a few crazy ideas I’ve had:

  • Create a special Donor Recognition Society for first time donors with a bunch of special “courtesies”.
  • Host a special town hall meeting (b/c I just hate “open houses”) for first time donors to hear first hand, witness and participate in mission-oriented messages and activities. This should help them see exactly what they have invested in.
  • Develop a donor communications series aimed only at first time donors with testimonials from larger, very influential donors talking about their excitement about various ROI success stories and their sense of fulfillment as a donor.
  • Institute a policy that all first time donors get a phone call from a board volunteer somewhere between three and six months after a donor’s first contribution. This phone call should include ROI-based information as well as the offer to answer any questions the donor may have. It would also be a nice touch to ask the donor if there is any feedback they might have for the non-profit and if there is anything they might want to get involved in.
  • Host a quarterly focus group session with first time donors and report the results and findings back to all first time donors.

And the ideas can go on and on … what do you do to help retain first time donors? How successful have you been at retaining first time donors? Please feel free to add onto the list of ideas that I just started by using the comment section of this blog. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
eanderson847@gmail.com
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