A focus on high-value donors for growth

publication date: Jun 11, 2013
author/source: Kimberley Blease

In a recent review of six charitable organizations, three that invest in high-value donors and three that do not, we saw that those investing in high-value donors had an average 376% increase of donors giving $1,000 annually (557 vs. 148) over a five-year period. Staggering results! They also had better renewal rates, greater lifetime value, higher annual average gifts, and a greater percent upgrading their gift year over year.

In fact, charitable organizations that invest in high-value giving are:

  • realizing real growth year over year;
  • reducing the impact of external market factors on their ability to raise money;
  • seeing an improvement in lifetime value and tenure with donors, and
  • realizing more high-value leadership gifts.

These results support my long-term belief that no matter who your organization is – no matter your size or your resources – understanding and cultivating the donor journey is key to maximizing the value of your annual file and getting the results you want. It’s the quality not the quantity of donors that counts and focusing on high-value donors (monthly, leadership and legacy donors) is the key. In fact, the role of the annual giving team is to cultivate high-value donors long-term. Everything we do should support that goal, from our acquisition programs to our legacy marketing and everything in between.

Now you’re thinking, “Okay, then how do we move people from prospects to high-value donors and how do we identify, retain and cultivate donors who are likely to become high-value?” If you are asking this question you are already on the right path. We start by setting a goal to build a lifetime relationship with donors. We can do that through:

  1. Acquisition. Selecting lists based on lifetime revenue, developing “second gift strategies,” and using creative campaigns to engage specific audiences.
  2. Retention and migration. Examining data to understand donors and their value. Personalizing donor communications and using variable images and copy based on profiling, and implementing retention strategies that connect your donors to the cause. Remember, your competition is investing in stewarding donors. What are you doing to engage and retain the people you have?
  3. Integration of channels and messages. Recognize that people give in different ways through different mediums and are engaged by different strategies. Use all channels and all areas of the organization including annual DRM, leadership giving and major gift support. If you have a public relations campaign, integrate it and create a consistent message for donors. 
  4. Investment in monthly, leadership and planned giving. Monthly giving is essential in the mix because these donors provide increased frequency, revenue and lifetime value; leadership giving represents a small number of donors but a sizeable percentage of revenue. There are more people who are willing to commit to a gift in their will than you may think but they take special strategies to engage. 

Data modeling can help you to determine who the best prospects are for high-value giving within your larger donor base – but modeling is not enough. Strategy and effective upgrade tactics are essential; donor behavior does not change because you send one newsletter. You have to be consistent with a specific plan.

Donors rarely follow a straight line throughout their giving journey. Seldom do they give the same amount, in the same way, year after year. Finances, personal experience, life stage, marketing efforts, and more can impact their path. Our job as fundraisers is to pay attention and understand those who are – or who are most likely to be - high-value donors and change their story. Support their journey. And, make the most out of our annual file.

Kimberley Blease is Vice President – Marketing & Client Relationships at Blakely & Associates, a direct marketing agency that specializes in the delivery of data-driven strategy and the implementation of truly integrated campaigns for not-for-profit clients in North America.  She has 30 years of fundraising and marketing experience. Her specialization is in the areas of direct response and building high value donor files – one donor relationship at a time.

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