Rebuilding your donor base from unengaged past donors

I’m working with two organizations right now who had a lot of success getting first time donations (special thanks to the fundraising volunteers of those organizations who were instrumental in that success) but not so much success in having those donors give again.

These organizations are frustrated by the results of subsequent asks, which are raising significantly lower than what they had hoped. Yikes!

Can you guess why this is happening? Maybe it’s happening for you too.

Chances are, you know why. These organizations know why. But it feels so hard to do anything about it.

Here are five key actions that small organizations like yours can take to re-engage past donors and then keep this from happening again with future donors.

Pick up the phone

It’s never too late to say thanks. If it’s too much for you to do on your own, have a bunch of volunteers together in a room with a list of people for them to each call. If they gave undesignated, have a generic story you can tell about the impact of their support. Try, as much as possible, to distill it down to a single person’s experience with your organization. For example, if you’re a youth shelter, share the story of one of the residents from the past few months (using a pseudonym of course and changing any identifiable details) or if you’re an arts organization, tell the story of a visitor to your exhibit. Try to use real stories without compromising the confidentiality of your clients (if that’s a concern).

Of course, if the donor designated their support to something specific, provide an update about that specifically. Try to use a story to showcase the impact of that update.

Get feedback

There are three ways I want you to collect feedback from your donors. The first is to survey your donors. Send them an email with a link (I really like typeform for modern and clean surveys) to a four-question anonymous survey that will take 3 minutes to complete. Tell them how long it should take to complete upfront and keep it short! Ask them the following three questions and then give a field for other feedback:

  • Why did you first become a donor to XYZ org. (multiple choice with “other” comment field”

  • If you have continued giving, why do you continue? (multiple choice with “other” comment field.

  • If you haven’t continued, why? (multiple choice with “other” comment field)

  • What can we do to make your experience as a donor more meaningful to you? (multiple choice with “other” comment field)

Tip: Pick a compelling subject line. One I received recently was “how can I best help you?” which really resonated with me and made me want to answer! Put your donors first and position the survey as helping to meet their needs.

The second way to collect feedback is by phoning a select group of donors who are no longer giving and ask them similar questions, but have a conversation with them, more deeply engaging them in the answers. Don’t respond to their feedback with anything other than gratitude for their time and honesty.

Finally, the third way to collect feedback is to meet with a small list of donors, some who have continued to give and some who have stopped giving (ideally who gave a “significant” amount to your organization) and ask them for feedback. Be honest and say that your organization dropped the ball in the past and you want to improve.

Send a monthly impact story

Forget newsletters with tons of articles, focus your donors attention on one story each month about the impact of their support of the community of your organization. You can tell the story of a client, the executive director, a volunteer, a donor, etc. Stories are way more interesting to read and showcase various parts of your organization and its work. It doesn’t have to be too long or fancy, just be consistent.

Follow up on your ask

One email to your donors doesn’t usually get opened, let alone a donation. Try sending out a letter in the mail and then a follow up email. Or, if you’re on a tight budget, send a series of emails, alternating between asking for support and showcasing the impact of that support. 4-6 emails over a couple of weeks (then stopping for a good, long-while) will see much greater results than just one email.

You can also have volunteers call to follow up on an ask. Create a simple and polite script that feels comfortable to your organization and then call as many people as you can. Make sure you update your list as people give!

Make a match

Donors love when their gift is matched by another donor. If you have someone who wants to see your fundraising succeed and can contribute that can be used as a match, it’s a great way to have that donor renew and of course to have others give as well.

Whew, those are five great tools you can use to reengage donors in efforts to renew their support. It’s actually more than I was planning on writing about, so I want you to remember this – you can’t do them all. Pick two or three that you can do well and then stick with those.