The Missing Piece of Your Online Fundraising Strategy

By Sean Chisholm
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Does your organization have a plan for engaging its third-party donors?

“Of course we do! Well, come to think of it…what exactly is a third-party donor again?”

No clue? Don’t worry. Most fundraisers, even able veterans, have no idea who their third-party donors are, much less have an actual fundraising strategy for turning them into reliable supporters.

So, first thing’s firstwhat exactly is a third-party donor?

It’s any donor that gives to your organization primarily because of a connection with the person who asks for the donation–and not because he or she is independently moved by your cause.

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising and Third-Party Donors

If you’ve ever conducted a peer-to-peer (p2p) fundraising campaign, then you know that this description fits the vast majority of new donors brought in through such campaigns. In fact, this phenomenon is exactly what makes peer-to-peer fundraising so effective. If a new organization sends you a direct appeal, odds are you’ll wind up deleting it. But if a colleague, a family member, or a friend sends the request, you will stop and listen.

When the asker is someone we have a personal connection with, we are much more likely to give to the organization. In these situations, our giving becomes more than just an expression of belief in the causeit becomes a way of affirming that we care about the person asking for the gift.

One of the biggest benefits of peer-to-peer fundraising is that it leverages these personal relationships in order to bring new donors into your nonprofit’s orbit. Existing supporters ask their friends and family members for donations and many of these people wind up making gifts to your organization.

It’s About More than Just Raising Money

If you’re only thinking about p2p fundraising as a way to bring in donations, you are missing the big picture. Peer-to-peer campaigns give you access to new networks of donors and they bring in lots of first-time givers. Each of these new donors is a potential regular giver, a potential fundraiser, a potential advocate or volunteer. You just have to keep them involved beyond the initial gift.

And this is the major challenge with third-party donors. Since they are giving primarily because of a relationship with the asker (and not because of an independent connection to your organization), it can be tough to sustain the interaction. That’s why it’s critical that your online fundraising strategy include a plan for engaging this unique segment of new donors so they’ll be more likely to stay involved.

Unfortunately, most organizations ignore this step. They simply treat third-party donors the same as new donors recruited through more direct channels. As a result, they lose first time givers that they might have kept with a more targeted approach.

The Typical Third-Party Sequence of Events

  • Mary, a supporter of Great Org, decides to run a marathon to raise money for the organization
  • Joe, Mary’s good friend, has never heard of Great Org, but he cares about Mary so he donates $50 towards her goal
  • A few months later Great Org sends Joe a direct appeal about a new campaign it’s runningJoe deletes it
  • A few months after that Great Org sends Joe a renewal appeal asking him to match his $50 gift for the coming yearJoe feels annoyed and unsubscribes

Most third-party donors haven’t built up the trust or comfort level needed to jump directly into a regular giving cycle with the organization. They “belong” much more to the person who solicited the initial donation than they do to the organization they gave to.

To turn these folks into regular givers, you need to recognize that their connection to your organization is weaker than your average first time giver. And then you need to develop an engagement strategy that takes this into account.

Tailor Communication to Retain Third-Party Donors

You wouldn’t ask someone to give you a loan after first meeting them, would you? Of course you wouldn’t. That would be inappropriate for the level of rapport and trust established with the other person at that point. You might ask a good friend for that type of help, but not a mere acquaintance.

The point is that you will naturally communicate with someone differently depending upon how established your relationship with that person is. You need to keep this in mind when approaching your third-party donors. They really don’t know you well just yet. The last thing you want to do is overload them with appeals and messages. You are at the earliest stage of a potential relationshipyou need to nurture the interaction in order for it to grow.

You can set the right tone by sending each of them a personal thank you note after their initial gifts. Follow up the auto receipt donors receive with a short personal email from someone in a position of authority at your organization. If need be, wait until after the campaign ends and send thank you messages then. Make sure the note is short and that you:

  • Thank the person for their involvement
  • Refer to the fundraiser the person donated to (this reinforces the fact that someone they care about already trusts the organization)
  • Present a soft way for the person to learn more about the organization (let them know you’ll be sharing a monthly newsletter with them, include a link to more material, etc.)
  • Thank them again

Just imagine how differently your new donors will perceive this approach. Instead of receiving another solicitation or a newsletter right off the bat, they’ll receive a personal thank you. Which follow up would you prefer?

A More Targeted Fundraising Strategy

This is just one small way you can modify your communication strategy to target third-party donors. And it’s just a starting point. Ultimately, you should develop a track that you can have your third-party donors follow as you progressively build more trust. As the relationship develops you can ask for more of a commitment. Here are some ideas you can use as you brainstorm how to cultivate these relationships over time:

  • A softer approach is better to build trust and rapport initially
  • If you have anything of value to give these new donors (like information they care about) consider leading with that. You’ll set the right tone by showing them that the relationship is a two way street.
  • Gradually layer in some soft asks to your communications. You might, for example, ask people to share a petition or report online. Or, you could ask them to follow you on social media.
  • After you’ve built some initial rapport, consider adding people into your monthly newsletter
  • Delay additional asks for money until after you’ve had at least three positive interactions.

Of course, these are just suggestions. Test your communication strategy to keep as many third-party donors around beyond the initial gift as possible. P2P fundraising as a critical part of your online fundraising strategy. Work on new donor retention to exponentially increase the impact of your online fundraising efforts.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Dennis Yang

The Guide to Courting Third-Party Donors

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