Will Your New Giving Challenge Donors Come Back?

November 19, 2015


Penelope Burk

Months after the Giving Challenge, we still marvel at the number of new donors who came forward to support organizations they did not donate to in last year’s event. According to Penelope Burk, CEO of Cygnus Applied Research and author of “Donor-Centered Fundraising” and “Donor-Centered Leadership,” it’s pretty likely that first-time donors will not give again. Why? We don’t always do the right things to make them feel good about their first gift.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County and The Patterson Foundation invest heavily in the Giving Challenge with the hopes that gains made in a 24-hour period will continue to nurture and sustain participating nonprofits for many years to come.

According to Burk’s research, 87% of donors said they needed only three things to give again:

  1. To be acknowledged in a prompt and meaningful way.
  2. For their gift to be assigned to a specific purpose.
  3. Communication about what the gift accomplished or helped to accomplish.

5 Penelope Burk Tips for Thanking Donors:

Burk says, “A great thank you letter can carry a donor into a greater commitment.” Donors consistently said that being thanked was the single most important communication they ever receive from nonprofits.

  1. It shouldn’t be more than one paragraph long.
  2. Stop hand-writing a crossed out “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wilson” for the more familiar “Jerry and Judi.” Donors are likely to think you made a mistake and didn’t bother to print a new letter, Burk says.
  3. Consider the impact of the highest level volunteer at your organization, a board member, calling to thank a donor for her first-time gift. 92% of donors said they would give again if a board member called to thank them. (And imagine how fulfilling this fundraising role can be for the board member who is uncomfortable asking for money.)
  4. The sincerity of your thank you letter is everything. An informative thank you letter full of programmatic details can be icy; be genuine instead.
  5. Write using “you” instead of “your” to emphasize the donor instead of the donor’s money.

Other donor-centered advice from Penelope based on data from her extensive research:

  • Every organization’s mission out there is “worthy.” Successful organizations move beyond the “worthiness” factor in their appeals and thank you letters.
  • Consider the cumulative impact of making one call each morning to a donor (only to thank them) and one in the late afternoon. Starting and ending your day like this can create unlimited potential for future gifts.
  • Donor recognition didn’t make it to the top three factors driving donor loyalty and more generous giving over time. Think about it.
  • In many cases, an organization can get a first gift by selling its brand. After that, it’s about showing your philanthropic investors they have a good return on their investment.

Many first-time gifts were made on September 1 and 2. With the strength of our nonprofit community and so many committed staff and board members out there, we know we do a lot of things right. Our continued message: let’s make sure the impact of the Giving Challenge lasts far beyond the 24-hour success we experienced and read about.

Penelope Burk visited Sarasota on November 18 for a special session with nonprofit leaders, a partnership of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, U.S. Trust, and Merrill Lynch.


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