Create a warm welcome for new donors

publication date: Apr 29, 2013
author/source: Leah Eustace

The latest statistics show that overall donor retention sits at about 40%. Yep, you read that right: you can expect to lose, on average, six out of every ten of your donors each year. Leah Eustace photoIf you break that down and look only at first time donors, the picture is even worse: only 27% will stay with you after making their first gift.

Yet, for some reason, too many nonprofits remain focused on filling that gap by bringing in new donors, rather than by better stewarding the ones they already have.

According to research done by the brilliant Adrian Sargeant, a 10% improvement in retention rates leads to a doubling of lifetime value. Right now I’m sitting at my desk flailing my arms and chanting, “Why, why oh why, aren’t nonprofits trying to improve their retention rates?”

Make them feel the love

There are many things you can do to improve retention rates, but the most important is to make your donors feel the love you have for them… as soon as possible. How do you do that right from the start of the relationship?

The obvious response to that question is a great thank you. I agree: that’s critical. But, this month’s tip is about another important, but less frequently used, part of your stewardship tool kit: the welcome package.

When new donors give to your organization, it’s critically important to welcome them properly. Make them feel special, anticipate the questions they might have, and give them a chance to let you know how they’d like to shape the relationship.

A great welcome package includes a genuine thank you, further information about your organization, and a response device that allows a donor to indicate how they’d like to be communicated with. Let’s break these down in a little more detail.

The thank-you letter

Here’s an example of a bad, but sadly common, thank you for new donors: some months after their gift, they receive an envelope in the mail marked “tax receipt enclosed.” They open it up and find a legal-sized piece of paper with a couple of perforated tax receipts at the bottom, and some kind of generic thank you crammed up into the space left at the top. If they continue to give you gifts (and most of them won’t), they’ll get exactly the same thank you every time.

Here’s a better way to do your thank you: within a few days of sending their gift, new donors receive a package that includes a thank you specific to their gift. It acknowledges them as a new donor to the organization, thanks them for their gift in support of exactly what it was they responded to, gives them a quick update on how you’ll be using their gift, and lets them know they can call or email any time with questions or concerns.

The welcome newsletter

A great welcome newsletter doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be personal and engaging. Please, whatever you do, don’t include photos of cheque-handing-over ceremonies or an article titled “A Message from the Executive Director.”

Do include a welcoming message: let them know how much you appreciate their support. Tell them a few stories about how donor dollars have made a difference. Let them know about other ways they can support you. Introduce them to members of your team. Make it easy for them to contact you by giving them phone numbers (with staff names and extension numbers) and email addresses (again, real email addresses, not the dreaded ‘info@...’). Anticipate questions about transparency and accountability by including a bit of information about how you value and steward donor dollars.

And don’t forget to follow readability best practices: use matte paper; 13 point serif font; black text on a white background; lots of close up photos; and, if using pie charts, make sure to stick to colours on the red side of the spectrum rather than blue (did you know that older eyes develop a yellow cast, which makes it very difficult to differentiate between blue, green and purple?).

The donor preferences survey

Now is a great time to ask your donors to let you know how they’d like to be treated. Ask them for their email address (if, indeed, they’d like to receive e-communications), ask them if it’s okay to phone them on occasion, ask if you can trade their name (if that’s something you do), and ask them to tell you a little bit about why they chose to give you a gift.

Don’t forget to ask donors to share their story with you. What motivated them to give? How have they been personally touched by the cause?

A few examples

I’m a big fan of The Redwood, in Toronto (full disclosure: they aren’t a current client, but they have been in the past). By all accounts we’d consider them a small shop, but, let me tell you, they embrace best practices in a big way and could teach all of us a thing or two about great fundraising.

A few years ago we worked together on a welcome package that they’ve very kindly offered to share with you. Click here to see a copy of their welcome newsletter, and click here to see the preferences survey they send out to new donors.

You can find other examples on Sofii (the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration). I particularly like the welcome packages done by ActionAid and Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

An even better welcome

I’ve shared just a few of my thoughts. If you’re already doing all these things, hooray! Perhaps you can focus on taking things up a notch: welcome thank you calls; special welcome packages for new monthly donors; welcome emails… the list goes on.

I’d love to get your ideas and feedback. What are you doing to show your donors some love and increase your retention rates? What are the essential components of your stewardship tool kit?

Leah Eustace is principal and managing partner with Good Works. A “fundraiser’s fundraiser” with a wide background in charitable fund development, she’s worked with clients including the Canadian Red Cross, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, CARE Canada and the UN Refugee Agency Canada on social media, direct marketing, donor research and legacy marketing.

She’s Past President of the Ottawa Chapter of AFP, President-Elect of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy-Canada, and a member of AHP, NTEN, the CMA and CAGP.

Contact her by email; follow @LeahEustace.

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