Converting year-end givers to regular donors | npENGAGE

Converting year-end donors to regular givers

By on Dec 17, 2012


Happy New Year! Almost.

At this point, your fundraising letters are mailed, your calls are mostly completed, and you probably just have some social media outreach left.

So take a minute to answer this question: “How are we going to get everyone who gives to give again next year?”

Or an even better question, “How are we going to let these December donors know they’re part of a family of donors, not just a victim of chugging (‘charity mugging’)?”

The first step shouldn’t need to be mentioned…but it is: Thank Your Donors

The first answer, of course, is mechanical: we will send them a letter acknowledging their gift in 24-48 hours.

I’m embarrassed to need to say that, but the shocking truth is that colleagues of mine give to 10 or 12 random groups at the end of every year. Incredibly, each year they report up to 70% of their gifts are not acknowledged. Not acknowledged! I’m not talking about their being sent a gift or receiving a personal call. Their gifts aren’t even confirmed. Not a form letter. Not an email.

So do that. At the minimum acknowledge your donors. Thanking them is even better. (This might require staffing up a bit. Or getting volunteers in to help free up your staff to do the gift entry.)

It would be advisable to set expectations for who should get handwritten notes and calls.

Help see the big picture

The best way to help keep donors engaged is to show them what difference their gifts are making in the world. Tom Ahern says to show donors the “fight” they’re getting to be part of.

In a paper entitled Growing Philanthropy in the United States, authors Adrian Sergeant and Jen Sheng offer a few suggestions on helping donors see the bigger picture. One great one is:

Rather than seeing supporters as donors (or as one participant put it ‘piggy banks’) we should regard them as individuals with their own philanthropic aspirations and goals.

For those that meet your giving thresholds for thank-you phone calls, you could ask them how they got started giving to your organization. Or even what other groups they give too. People often get more engaged when they realize you see them as more than an ATM. These conversations will help you better serve them as you grow the relationship.

Treat donors like insiders

Flashy color mailings are useful for attracting new donors. But years ago at Blackbaud’s Conference for Nonprofits, I remember direct mail guru Mal Warwick telling us that fancy looking direct mails hinders donor retention.

It makes sense. Donors want to be assured their gifts are helping your cause, not paying for the mail they receive.

So send them decidedly plainer mailings. These are less expensive to your nonprofit, and can be geared to helping them feel like part of the family.

Be Yoda, let them be Skywalker

Jeff Brooks recently posted on letting donors be the Luke Skywalker, letting them be the heroes. You see, we often position our nonprofits as the hero. But without donors, our nonprofits wouldn’t exist. So, in real way, they are the heroes.

So let them know it. Not in a glad-handing, disingenuous way. But with sincere gratitude for their generosity.

You’ve got 90 Days

Adrian Sargeant’s research indicates that you need to make meaningful contact with a donor within 90 days of a gift. So you’ve got until the end of March to meaningfully touch your year-end donors.

One powerful and easy way to do this is shared in a this brief Movie Monday entitled Getting board members to raise money joyfully. Watch the video, and in the next 90 days organize a calling list for board members. They’ll grow to enjoy it.

Get cracking. The clock is ticking.

To learn more incredibly practical tips on increasing donor loyalty from close to a dozen experts, check out the upcoming Donor Retention Project. Brought to you by the producers of the Donor Retention Project is projected to be available in early February.


Concord Leadership founder Marc A. Pitman is the author of “Ask Without Fear!,” the executive director of, and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank.

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