Sean Chisholm

Convincing New Donors that You’re the One

In the dating world, fortunes can change quickly. When two relative strangers meet, it’s only natural that there will be a “feeling out” process. And during this initial interaction, the importance of what might otherwise be trivial events is heightened. A misplaced joke, a conversational pause that lasts too long, these small things can change a person’s perception in a moment.

So what do most people do to account for this heightened scrutiny? Usually they modify their behavior until they have built up some rapport with the other person. In other words, most people won’t lead things off with an off-color joke or an invitation to meet the parents. People get to know each other gradually and then settle into a rhythm.

Of course, this process isn’t unique to the dating game. All relationships evolve over time, and what’s appropriate at one stage of a relationship is often inappropriate at another. But while we tend to be quite aware of this fact in a context like romantic relationships, we may be less aware of it in others. In particular, nonprofits often gloss over the fact that building relationships with new donors is itself a process, and that different types of communications are appropriate at different stages of that process.

With that in mind here are three tips, gleaned from the world of dating, to help you build more authentic and lasting relationships with your new donors.

1. Slow Your Roll

“Hey I had a great time meeting you”
“Me too that was a lot of fun.”
“So what do you think, want to get married?”

Crazy? Of course it is. It’s a totally inappropriate question for the context and stage of the relationship. Here’s another example of a question that’s incongruous with a budding relationship:

“Hey give us some money we’re doing great things to help the world!”
“Sure, ok I can get behind that.”
“Hey how about giving us MORE money, did I mention we’re doing great things to help the world!”

Ok, so maybe the second example is less extreme than the first one, but it’s a similar sort of problem. The issue is that the context of the relationship isn’t being considered when the follow up question is asked. When you’re just forming a relationship with a new donor, the worst thing you can do is bombard them with additional solicitations. Nobody likes to be treated like an ATM; it’s almost as tone-deaf as asking a first date to marry you.

Instead you should focus your post-donation communications on expressing gratitude and then sharing valuable information about your mission. The first step to keeping your donors is thanking them; the more personal you can make the experience, the better. After you’ve accomplished that, you should look to have at least two or three additional touches with the donor before you even start thinking about making another ask. Here’s a sample follow up plan for new donors:

1. Auto Thank You (at the time of donation)

2. Short personal thank you email from a staff member (within 48 hours)

3. Blog article with call to action to subscribe for more information (6 weeks)

4. Impact mailer showing donor where the funds went (12 weeks)

5. Quarterly newsletter (16 weeks)

6. Next Ask (24-36 weeks)

Of course, there is nothing magical about this precise formulation. You could adjust the timing of when you send the next appeal, but either way, it does highlight something important about following up with new donors. Your focus should be on thanking donors and providing them with valuable content. They just gave you money, now it’s your turn to make them feel welcomed and to provide them with valuable information about your mission. Delay the next ask!

2. Communicate Shared Values

“So are you close with your family?”
“What were you like growing up?”

There’s a certain similarity between first dates and job interviews. Probably because in both situations people are probing to find out more about the type of person you really are. In either scenario, it’s natural to try and emphasize shared interests and values to try and build rapport with the person asking questions. You should attempt to do the exact same thing with your new donors.

Obviously if someone is giving your organization money, there is going to be some level of alignment between that person’s personal views and your organization’s mission. In order to really reinforce a sense of shared values, however, you need to dig a little deeper into the reasons why people begin giving to your nonprofit. Two good places to start are (i) brainstorming with your staff members and (ii) polling actual donors. Both exercises may open your eyes to new reasons why people begin donating to your organization.

Once you’ve identified the most common donor motivations, you can actively look to reinforce them in your post-donation follow up messages. Suppose, for instance, that you send out a blog article 6 weeks after the initial donation (as in the example above). You might choose an article that subtly highlights the major themes you’ve identified as motivating new donors. By reinforcing these motivations you are strengthening the initial connection the new donor felt for your organization.

In the same vein, you might also consider the source of the new donor as a potential indicator of the motivation for giving. For example, new donors that come in through peer-to-peer fundraising pages are likely giving because a family member or friend (the person who created the fundraising page) asked them to. In a situation like this, you would want to highlight the shared connection to the individual fundraiser by specifically referencing that person in the personal thank you email. Then you can move on to more educational material about your mission in subsequent communications.


3. Make it Fun and Interesting

Dinner and a movie?
It’s been done. A lot.

Don’t be boring. Make your follow up with new donors as interesting and engaging as possible. Just like a first date is a chance to leave a strong impression, your initial communications with new donors will shape their impressions of you moving forward. You want to stand out from the pack (in a good way).

How you ultimately accomplish this will depend upon the creativity and character of your organization, but there are a couple things you can focus on right away to help distinguish yourself. First of all, the content you deliver in your follow up messages (blog posts, impact reports, newsletters, etc.) should be emotionally and visually compelling. Tell the story of someone your organization has helped, give your new supporters a unique window into how you operate, whatever you do, make it something you would actually want to take time from your day to interact with. Just think, if we hadn’t produced this content would I actually take the time to read/watch it? If you wouldn’t, they won’t.

Besides sending compelling content that engages your new donors and gives them a sense of your organization’s identity, you should also provide a variety of ways for new donors to proactively increase their involvement. When they click through to your blog article do they have a way of signing up for your newsletter? Do they have easy access to more compelling content? A chance to see volunteer opportunities? An opportunity to pledge their birthdays or create fundraising pages?

The point is to provide a menu of engagement options to new donors that they can opt into. You aren’t pushing anything too hard. You are just providing valuable and useful information and allowing people to increase their level of engagement if they want to. This passive approach will help you identify hot prospects off the bat without alienating the less eager folks in the crowd. Even the people that don’t bite on one of your offers will at least become aware that you have these options available. If and when they feel comfortable enough to increase their engagement with you, they will know that there are steps they can take to do that!

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Photo Credit: Flickr User

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