A sure fire way to spoil a relationship with a major gift donor is to treat them like an ATM. You only come around when you’re going to ask them to dispense some money to keep your program going.
This might work for a few gifts. But before long, the donor is going to figure out that their only value to you and your organization is their cheque book.
Once that happens, they’re likely to start ignoring all your efforts to communicate. Phone calls from your number will go unanswered, emails will go straight to the trash folder, and meetings will be hard to come by.
Most skilled fundraisers know this and avoid it like the plague. They work tirelessly to thank, steward, and foster healthy relationships with their major donors.
Yet when it comes to first-time, small donors, many organizations throw all this common courtesy out the window.
I experienced this recently. I was stopped by a street canvasser on the sidewalks of Brooklyn who was raising funds for an international organization that I was familiar with and admired. The canvasser made a convincing case for support, all backed up by personal stories, a clear need, and a well-communicated impact of my gift.
So I made a small, one-time contribution. Nothing amazing, but not bad for being stopped in the streets on my way to lunch I thought. 5 minutes later, I got a text message thank you from the organization. Cool!
But that’s about where the stewardship stopped. A few weeks later, I got a direct mailer filled with multiple brochures covered in data and an envelope I could mail another gift in. Not long after that, I got a robo-call asking me to make another gift.
Whoa, whoa, hold on! I gave a one-time gift when asked by a random stranger, and now I’m getting pelted with asks for more money! I can pretty much guarantee that the next phone call, email, or other communication from this organization will be ignored. I already know what they want, and I’m not ready to give again yet.
Now look, I’m under no illusions here. I know my gift was minor, and as such the amount of time they can and should invest in me is minimal. But there are lots of low-effort, low-cost communications they could have utilized to cultivate me from a one-time donor to a regular giver.
Instead of just asking for more money, they could connect me with other ways to support the cause. Why not try one of these engagement opportunities?
1. Ask me to sign a petition
Maybe a set of outdated laws prevent them from pursuing their mission with greater efficiency.
Maybe a foreign government is sabotaging their efforts to help their own citizens.
Whatever the case might be, surely there is some circumstance hindering their ability to carry out their mission that a few thousand signatures could help with.
If there isn’t…
2. Ask me to sign a pledge
So maybe there isn’t a need for a petition right now. Why not ask first-time donors to sign a pledge?
There are limitless ways to approach this. Green organizations often ask supporters to sign a pledge to limit their power usage, take shorter showers, eat less meat, etc. One of my favorites is the R-Word.org’s pledge to stop using the “R” word (which, if you still use that word: what’s wrong with you? Go sign the pledge).
This is a simple, easy way to ask your supporters to help a cause in a small way that doesn’t require opening their wallet.
3. Ask me to call a lawmaker
Maybe there’s a more pressing issue facing your organization that needs more direct pressure from voters. Ask me to call my elected officials and ask for their support!
The key here is to make it easy: draft the email for me, show me how I can find out who my elected officials are and how to contact them. Tell me exactly what to say, and be sure to point out how easy it is to do.
4. Ask me to share with my friends
Let’s say I gave a $20 donation. How could I turn that $20 impact into a $100 impact?
I could ask 5 friends to also donate $20.
Personal asks from friends are 300 times more likely to result in a donation than asks coming directly from an organization. Before hitting me up for money again, why not ask me to share the cause with my friends? Communicate that I could multiply the impact of my gift by 400%, without giving any more money, just by recruiting my friends!
Let’s say my friends don’t have money to give, or I’m too shy to ask…
5. Ask me to humble brag on social media
My generation is the master of the “humble brag.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the act of bragging about something you did in a way that sounds like you’re just mentioning it off hand. And there’s no place we love humble bragging more than on social media.
Give a millennial a ready-made way to share that they made a gift on Facebook or Twitter, and you’re almost guaranteed to get some social shares.
But beyond the humble brag, there’s another way to get some social media momentum going…
6. Ask me to change my profile picture
When the United States Supreme Court ruled in favour of marriage equality, 26 million people added a rainbow filter to their profile picture on Facebook.
Does this make an immediate impact in the lives of individuals who are the victims of discrimination? Probably not, but it did catch people’s attention and give them an opportunity to share with their friends that they support a cause. Those friends often join in and change their pictures too (Fear Of Missing Out is powerful among my generation).
7. Ask me to do LITERALLY ANYTHING (That helps the cause)
Forget the pledges, just ask me to do ANYTHING that will help!
No organization does this quite as well as DoSomething.org. It’s baked right into their mission: DoSomething.org exists to “make the world suck less” by engaging young people in social causes that don’t require money, an adult, or a car.
Their homepage is a treasure trove of ideas for actions supporters can take that don’t cost them anything and make a real impact. Things like making a 5-minute playlist to encourage you to take shorter showers, cleaning up litter, or games to help a friend quit smoking.
Don’t just ask, use the knowledge
Many of these ideas (like signing a pledge) can be easily tracked by your organization. This is valuable information! If a first-time donor turns around and signs a pledge a few weeks later, you know you’ve got them engaged. They’ve interacted with your cause in multiple ways and told you that they might be ready to take more action. Don’t just ask for engagement, use the knowledge you gain from it!
If you’re interested in learning more about engaging first-time, online donors, check out this free webinar. We would love to have you join us in our movement to create more meaningful engagement with first time donors – before asking for that second gift.
Andrew Littlefield is a writer and marketer for WeDidIt, a startup focused on helping nonprofits maximize their fundraising efforts through software solutions.