Turning First-Time Donors Into Repeat Supporters

By Heather H. Thornton, Project Manager

Back in August, I wrote about giving my first gift to my alma mater. I finally decided to take the plunge after I was alerted via email from the University about a fire at one of the oldest buildings on campus. This prompted me to revisit my beloved alma mater’s website, check out their newsletter and want to somehow get involved. So I went online, updated my ancient student profile and made my first gift.  I received an automatically generated email promptly after making the gift and I also received a very thoughtful, hand-written note from the University thanking me for the donation and providing a receipt for the gift amount.

This process got me thinking about the importance of thanking and engaging first time donors to ensure that they become regular supporters. Though there are various ways to go about this, below are a few thoughts on how this could be facilitated:

  1. Send a timely receipt and thank the donor. This is important to do while your organization and the gift is still fresh in the donor’s mind, and timeliness is key. Sending a thank you letter and a receipt promptly after a gift is made is good practice and will reassure the donor that the contribution was received. A hand-written thank you note is a nice touch and a phone call may also be appropriate, depending on the donor’s relationship to your organization. Remember: first impressions last, so make yours a good one!
  2. Find out as much information as possible about your first-time donor. What is her affiliation to your organization? Is she an alumna, a visitor to your museum, or perhaps a subscriber to your newsletter? Does she have children or other family members who are involved with your organization in some capacity? Sure, this kind of information may take some time to obtain, but the more you know about your first-time donor, the easier it will be to determine her motivation for giving and how you could further cultivate the relationship.
  3. Keep your first-time donor engaged and informed. But do so in a way that suits the donor. Depending on the contact information he provided and whether or not he specified which contact method he prefers, it may be appropriate to reach out to him by emailing your monthly newsletter, mailing a calendar of upcoming events or calling occasionally to touch base.
  4. Thank the donor! Yes, this is repetitive, but the importance of thanking a first-time donor (or any donor, for that matter!) cannot be understated.