Elizabeth Chung

A Short Story: Turning Third-Party Donors into Loyal Supporters of Your Cause

Amy was scrolling through her Facebook feed when she saw Matt’s update:

“Instead of asking for gifts this year, I’m pledging my 25th birthday to bring clean water to people in need. Please check out my StellarOrg campaign!”

Matt and Amy had been friends since the third grade. She’d come to school one day with a fresh bowl cut her mom had given her, and Matt walked into class with the same haircut – also crafted by his mother. That had been the start to a long friendship, one that now motivated Amy to quickly click on his Facebook link.


She was brought to Matt’s fundraising page. She’d never heard of StellarOrg before – a nonprofit that apparently provided clean water to kids in need – but after reading Matt’s personal appeal, she understood why this cause was important to him. And truthfully, she was really here to support Matt.

Amy pulled out her credit card and made a $25 gift.

At this point, Amy became a third-party donor: she gave to an organization primarily because of a personal connection to the person who asked for the donation – not because she was necessarily moved by the cause.

Thirty seconds later, an email landed in her inbox. It was from StellarOrg.

“Thank you for your gift! Your generosity will go a long way towards bringing clean water to children in need.”

An auto-email. Amy clicked out of her inbox and returned to Facebook.

Two weeks later, Amy was just starting the coffee pot when her phone beeped, the alert for a new email. She quickly recognized the sender: StellarOrg, the organization she’d donated to a few weeks ago.


As soon as she opened the email, she was greeted by a small boy holding a glass of clear water to his lips. He was smiling, two big dimples dotting his cheeks.

The photo was followed by a short message:

Dear Amy,

I’m Cameron Pax, Director of Communications at StellarOrg. On behalf of everyone from StellarOrg and the people we serve, I wanted to say THANK YOU for donating to Matt’s birthday campaign last week. By helping him reach his fundraising goal, you’re enabling us to bring clean, safe drinking water to children in Indonesia.

Thank you for being a rockstar!

And, just in case you didn’t get to see this yet, make sure to check out our recent blog post to meet some of the kids whose lives you impacted!


Thanks again for your support. It means the world to us.

Hope you have a great day,


Amy was taken aback. She had expected the auto-email receipt, but she’d never gotten a personal thank-you from a nonprofit before – let alone from one of its leaders. And it was for a donation she made for her friend rather than the actual organization. How sweet, she thought, that the nonprofit went out of its way to personally thank her.

Impressed and curious, Amy sipped her coffee and clicked through to read about Max and Ada. In the following week she would go on to follow StellarOrg on Twitter for more updates, and she doesn’t mind when they start sending her monthly newsletters. After a couple months, she would feel confident enough in StellarOrg’s mission to donate again, all by her own initiative.

The Fundraising Sparknotes:

So…what did I just read?

You just read the story of how one nonprofit successfully sustained a relationship with a third-party donor beyond her initial gift.

Amy is just one of the many third-party donors that organizations can acquire through a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Peer-to-peer campaigns give you access to your network’s networks, so they tend to bring in a lot of first-time donors. However, because these third-party donors are giving mainly because of their personal relationship with the fundraiser (not because they are independently connected to your organization), they require a more targeted approach than the average first time giver.

Third-party donors gave to their friends and family, and not necessarily your cause – meaning you can’t treat them the same as new donors who have responded to a direct appeal. Assuming they are passionate supporters of your organization and immediately asking for another donation or sending a bunch of messages about your cause might turn them off. If a mere acquaintance kept badgering me for more money, I’d get annoyed too.

Instead, nurture this new relationship by building initial rapport and trust. Develop a communication strategy that will gradually deepen their relationship with your organization and cause, and eventually turn these first-time donors into regular supporters!

Quick Tips for Engaging Third-Party Donors:

Now, let’s revisit our story. As demonstrated by StellarOrg, here are some tips on how to develop a targeted communication strategy for your third-party donors.

First, follow up with a personal thank-you email after the campaign is over. It should:

1. Thank the third-party donor for their gift

2. Refer to the fundraiser the person gave to (to highlight the trusted fundraiser’s relationship with your organization)

3. Offer resources to help them learn more about your cause and oragnization (e.g. blog posts, videos from the field, an impact report, news on the cause sector, etc.)

4. Thank the donor again

Over time, cultivate your relationships by following these practices:

DO offer valuable information and resources on your organization’s cause
DO progressively add “soft” asks to your messages (eg. ask the donor to follow you on social media, to share a report or blog post with friends, etc.)
DO consider adding donors to your monthly newsletter, but only after you’ve built initial rapport and trust
DO aim to delight donors with a bit of humor splashed into your emails, behind-the-scenes videos or an invitation to an interactive Tweet chat, as examples
DO use a CMS/email marketing software to track open rates and click rates
DO make emails mobile-friendly with responsive design
DON’T send another donation appeal until you’ve had several positive interactions (eg. they followed you on social media, opened and clicked through your emails, etc.)
DON’T send super long messages that will lose readers’ attention


There you have it: a quick breakdown of how you can keep third-party donors beyond their initial gift. Of course, these are great ground rules to start with, but remember to get creative and test your own emails, content offers, and overall communication strategy to learn what best engages your nonprofit’s third-party donors. With some highly targeted messaging, you can increase your chances of retaining this unique segment of donors!

From Blind Date to Long-Term Relationship

courting third party donors guide

Image Credit: Flickr User Eskulanak

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